NASA’s InSight Mars landing lets us be rocket scientists for a day

I didn’t study rocket science. My experience of shooting stuff into the sky extends to some ill-fated school projects, and I certainly wasn’t invited to join the MIT Rocket Team (they still haven’t returned my calls).

But on Monday, just like everyone else around the world, I’ll get a chance to live the flush-faced excitement of a rocket scientist as NASA lands its InSight mission on Mars.

InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) has set out to learn about the interior of the Red Planet and how it was formed, with the hope that we’ll learn more about the origins of our own planet.

It will drill deeper beneath the Martian surface than ever before to find out about Marsquakes and the interior heat of the planet. And by bouncing radio signals back and forth with Earth, it will tell us whether Mars wobbles on its orbit (ultimately telling us about the composition of the planet’s core).

In this week’s episode of Watch This Space, we take a look at the motivations behind the mission, and what we’ll learn — with some references to The Bachelorette thrown in, of course.

But before all the experiments start, InSight has to touch down. The calculations that go into that landing are phenomenal (just ask a NASA scientist). After six months zooming through space, the InSight lander will make its way to the Martian surface in just six minutes. 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.

The engineering that’s gone into building the InSight spacecraft and lander is staggering, and the people behind the project — who’ve been working for years to develop, launch and land this mission on another planet — are nothing short of inspiring. But on Monday, we won’t need to be scientists to be part of this.

We’ll all be able to watch at home, via the internet, as humankind achieves something amazing. We’ll hold our breath as InSight enters Mars’ atmosphere and we wait for confirmation of a successful landing.

In those moments, it will be possible to feel close to the action. And I can’t wait.

You can watch InSight touch down on Monday Nov. 26 at around noon PT on NASA’s website, on Twitter or on Facebook. CNET will be kicking off coverage at 11 a.m. PT (because, yes, we are that keen).

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