CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Mars is about to get its first U.S. visitor in years: a three-legged, one-armed geologist to dig deep and listen for quakes. NASA’s InSight makes its grand entrance through the rose-tinted Martian skies on Monday, after a six-month, 300 million-mile (480 million-kilometer) journey. It will be the first American spacecraft to land since the Curiosity rover in 2012 and the first dedicated to exploring underground. NASA is going with a tried-and-true method to get this mechanical miner to the surface of the red planet. Engine firings will slow its final descent and the spacecraft will plop down on its rigid legs, mimicking the landings of earlier successful missions. That’s where old school ends on this $1 billion U.S.-European effort . Once flight controllers in California determine the coast is clear at the landing site — fairly flat and rock free — InSight’s 6-foot (1.8-meter) arm will remove the two main science experiments from the lander’s deck and place them directly on the Martian surface. No spacecraft has attempted anything like that before. The firsts don’t stop there. One experiment will attempt to penetrate 16 feet (5 meters) into Mars, using a self-hammering nail with heat sensors… Read full this story
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