As I pen these words on Nov. 26, 2018, it’s 1:00 p.m. Central Standard Time, which means that NASA’s InSight Lander is now less than one hour away from its scheduled arrival to land on Mars. I don’t know about you, but I’m perched on the edge of my command chair in my office watching the live coverage of this mission on the NASA.gov website with my fingers crossed for luck for this mission (typing with one’s fingers crossed is no easy task, let me tell you).
Other editors around the AspenCore network are as excited as me, and emails and instant messages are bouncing back and forth between us.
At the time of this writing, there have been 17 attempted Mars landings by unmanned (robotic) probes, only seven of which have been successful — the most recent being the Curiosity rover, which landed on the Aeolis Palus plain in the Gale Crater on Aug. 6, 2012.
Unlike previous landers and rovers, whose primary missions were to examine the surface of Mars, InSight — which is equipped with a sophisticated seismometer and a burrowing heat probe — is designed to study the internal structure and rotation of Mars.
Following the aeroshell and parachute sequence for atmospheric entry and descent, as illustrated in this video , the InSight lander will separate from its parachute back shell and ride retrorockets down to the Martian surface.
As you may recall from my earlier columns — “ My Astronaut Training for Mars ” and “ The Hardest Thing About Living on Mars… Will Be Us! ” — Season 2 of National Geographic’s “Mars” TV series is now in full swing. In fact, Episode 3 will premiere this evening. The focus of this TV series is our establishing a colony on Mars circa the 2030s and 2040s. The data provided by the InSight probe will play a key part in the real-world realization of such an endeavor.
As I’ve previously noted, the Nat Geo “Mars” TV series raises all sorts of questions, such as the clash between government-sponsored scientific teams versus commercial interests in the form of private companies funding industrial operations on the Red Planet.
I personally believe that humans are destined to become a true spacefaring species. I also worry that all of our eggs are currently in one basket (Earth), so an extinction-level event (ELE) such as a large asteroid strike could easily take us out of the cosmic picture (the chances may be low, but the results would be devastating). Establishing a self-sustaining civilization on Mars would go a long way to preserving Earth’s genetic heritage.