A NASA spacecraft dubbed InSight is currently hurtling its way through space at a speed of 13,000 mph. Its destination is Mars, and scientists want to broadcast its progress every bit of the way. To do just that, the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has launched a new podcast titled “On a Mission.” Hosted by science journalist Leslie Mullen, the eight-episode series will follow InSight as it journeys hundreds of millions of miles through the cosmos and attempts to land on the “harsh, desert, alien world” of Mars on November 26.
If successful, InSight—short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport—will be the first robotic explorer to study the Red Planet’s deep interior. Scientists know a great deal about the planet’s surface, but the same can’t be said for its “inner space,” including its crust, mantle, and core. There’s a bigger picture to be gained, too: This information will not only improve our understanding of Mars, but will also help paint a picture of how Mars, Earth, Venus, and Mercury formed more than 4 billion years ago.
The first episode of the podcast broaches the “danger of going to Mars.” Although InSight successfully launched earlier this year on May 5, landing and descending will be the vessel's next big challenge. It will enter the Martian atmosphere at a velocity of 14,100 mph, and a parachute will be deployed to help it slow down. Retro rockets will then be fired off, letting it slowly descend to the surface. “On Mars the atmosphere is thick enough to burn you up on entry, but thin enough to make landing with a parachute extremely tricky,” Mullen says in the first episode. Fewer than half of past missions to Mars have been successful.
Two episodes are currently available on the InSight website, SoundCloud, and Apple Podcasts, and a new episode will be released each week in the lead-up to InSight’s attempted landing. Future seasons of the podcast are also expected, and those will focus on different NASA missions.