NASA Prepares for 'Seven Minutes of Terror' as InSight Lander Makes Final Descent to Mars

After shooting dozens of satellites into space, landing astronauts on the Moon, and landing not one, but two rovers on the Red Planet, you’d think NASA would be pretty confident about today’s InSight mission, which will land a new probe on the surface of Mars. It turns out that’s not entirely true—NASA’s mission control is waiting anxiously as InSight closes in on the Red Planet, with the knowledge that everything hinges on the final few minutes of the descent. Because of the delay between Mars-Earth communications, it will take seven minutes for NASA to know whether the $425 million-dollar lander has successfully touched down…or crashed into the Martian surface.

NASA is calling it “seven minutes of terror.”

According to Bruce Banerdt, the InSight mission’s lead scientist: “Landing on Mars is one of the hardest single jobs that people have to do in planetary exploration. It’s such a difficult thing, it’s such a dangerous thing that there’s always a fairly uncomfortably large chance that something could go wrong.”

Part of the reason that the landing is so difficult is because there will be no human guiding InSight’s descent—it will all be automated. According to Rob Grover, the NASA scientist in charge of InSight’s entry, descent and landing: “We can’t joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-program into the spacecraft. We’ve spent years testing our plans, learning from other Mars landings and studying all the conditions Mars can throw at us.”

To stick the landing, the InSight lander will have to decrease its speed from roughly 12,300 miles per hour to zero in about six minutes. If it isn’t able to slow down in time, it’ll have what space aficionados call a “hard landing”—also known as a crash. Tune in around 2 PM EST on the NASA livestream below to track InSight as it makes its descent.