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.