Mars Spacecraft Set To Land On Monday

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Mars probe faces daunting challenge to land safely

Almost seven months to the day, NASA's InSight lander is finally ready to reach its destination, and the toughest part of its journey is still ahead.

The most recent attempt to land on Mars was made two years ago by a European probe, which crashed on the planet's surface. It will enter the Martian atmosphere at a speed of 12,300 miles per hour (5.5 kilometers per second), at a perfectly calculated angle of 12 degrees to make sure it doesn't burn up or bounce off the atmosphere altogether.

"There's a reason engineers call landing on Mars "seven minutes of terror", Rob Grover, InSight's entry, descent and landing (EDL) lead, based at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has said in a statement.

InSight should provide our best look yet at Mars' deep interior.

The thin atmosphere on Mars - just 1% of Earth's - means there is little friction to slow down a spacecraft, and that has played a key role in past failures.

The smaller, 880-pound (360 kg) InSight - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st USA -launched Martian exploration including the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s.

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New lander will add to humans' long fascination with Mars

"What this helps us understand is how we got to here", said JPL's Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator, during a pre-landing briefing with reporters last week.

Scientists consider Mars a tantalising time capsule.

Payloads system engineer Farah Alibay is part of the engineering team that designed InSight's instruments.

NASA's 2012 probe, Curiosity, was tasked with a scouting mission while InSight's focus will be to learn what goes on under Mars' surface taking the planet's temperature, and measuring marsquakes. The probe is equipped with a mechanical mole to tunnel underground to measure internal heat.

Meanwhile, a radio transmitter will send signals back to Earth, tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten.

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