NASA announced that their InSight spacecraft is on track for a soft touchdown on Martian surface on November 26.
Michael Meyer, NASA's lead scientist for Mars exploration, said the Martian surface is too cold and dry, with too much radiation bombardment, for life to now exist. "It takes skill, focus and years of preparation", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters here.
More probes have been sent to Mars than any other planet in the solar system but more than half of these missions have ended in failure, with the final stages, involving landing gently on the Martian surface, proving to be particularly risky and unsuccessful.
The mission control team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) near Los Angeles prepared to conduct a final adjustment to the InSight's flight path on Sunday to maneuver the spacecraft closer toward its entry point over Mars. 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.
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If InSight passes through this keyhole precisely then it ought to land in the middle of the Elysium Planitia, though it will still need a heat-resistant capsule, a parachute and rockets to cut its velocity from 12,000mph to 5mph and ensure it arrives softly and safely after a seven-minute descent.
"We can't joystick the landing, so we have to rely on the commands we pre-programme into the spacecraft".
But before all the experiments start, InSight has to touch down. "Just by surviving the trip so far, the two MarCO satellites have made a giant leap for CubeSats", said Anne Marinan, a MarCO systems engineer based at JPL.
Here's a minute-by-minute look at the biggest moments of InSight's landing sequence - any of which could doom the robot.