The seismometer will measure Marsquakes - subtle vibrations caused by internal rumblings, meteorites smashing into the planet or dust storms whipping across the surface, explains Katarina Miljkovic, an Australian-based scientist on the project. Orbiting satellites have also revealed important puzzle pieces about Mars' climate makeup and orbit, and have even detected what are thought to be flows of salty liquid water. Using a jackhammer, the probe will drill down 5 meters (16 feet) into the planet and, basically, it will take the planet's temperature. NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will help verify this as it flies over the landing site.
"We've studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology, and surface chemistry", said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA's Science Mission Directorate.
Earth's overall success rate at Mars is 40 per cent. And in the final hours of InSight's almost seven-month, 300 million-mile-cruise, the two robots are having quite a conversation on Twitter. Almost two dozen other Mars missions have been sent from other nations.
The instrument, mounted on the deck of the lander, will also give an indication if the core is liquid or solid.
Landing a spacecraft and that too achieving a soft landing for InSight, on a planet that is on average about 12.5 light minutes away, means NASA will have to keep a sharp watch on all the data related to InSight's health and trajectory, says a report by the space agency. In MarCO's case, the new technology is communications equipment that will relay InSight's telemetry data back to Earth.
It is NASA's eighth successful Mars landing since the 1976 Vikings.
Mars is about to get a new visitor from Earth tomorrow. With only one failed touchdown, it's an enviable record.
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MarCO is a small spacecraft that's flying to Mars with InSight.
The robotic geologist - created to explore Mars' mysterious insides - must go from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and, hopefully, lands on three legs. 15 seconds later, the spacecraft will experience maximum deceleration which, along with the heating, could make radio contact a bit wobbly.
Then, the parachute will deploy, the craft will separate from the heat shield, deploy its three legs and activate radar to sense how far it is from the ground. As the probe drops towards the surface, air molecules in the Martian atmosphere strike the heat shield, causing it to heat up and the craft to slow down.
As a back-up system, InSight will send one of two tones via a UHF signal to Earth, immediately after touching down.
"This thing has a lot more to do", said entry, descent and landing systems engineer Rob Grover.
The parachute is expected to deploy at supersonic velocities, and it is hard or impossible to mathematically model the process completely or to test the process in a wind tunnel, Banerdt explained. The orbiter can not receive and transmit data simultaneously, so it is the tiny satellites hat will likely inform Earth first of the landing's outcome.
Viewing parties are planned coast to coast at museums, planetariums and libraries, as well as in France, where InSight's seismometer was designed and built.