It’s too bad Mars is such an interesting place, because it’s actually one of the most difficult places to visit in the Solar System, especially if you want to bring along a lot of luggage. That planet is a graveyard of missions that didn’t quite make it.
NASA's Mars Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) spacecraft is on track for a soft touchdown on the surface of the Red Planet on Nov. 26, the Monday after Thanksgiving. But it's not going to be a relaxing weekend of turkey leftovers, football and shopping for the InSight mission team. Engineers will be keeping a close eye on the stream of data indicating InSight's health and trajectory, and monitoring Martian weather reports to figure out if the team needs to make any final adjustments in preparation for landing, only five days away.
Europe has been trying to land on Mars since 2003, but none of the attempts have gone exactly according to plan. A couple of months ago, the ExoMars Schiaparelli landing demonstrator crashed onto the planet’s surface, losing contact with its mothership. However, the mission was partially successful, providing information that will enable Europe and Russia to land its ExoMars rover on the Red Planet in 2021.
Hopes of another successful landing on Mars were dashed last week when the Schiaparelli probe went missing in action during its descent onto the Red Planet.
Pictures released over the weekend from NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter appear to show a parachute and a disturbed area of the Martian landscape. Early investigations suggest that the lander’s parachute opened earlier than planned, and caused the lander to plummet to the surface from as high as 4km, possibly exploding on impact.