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NASA’s Insight To Attempt Landing On The Red Planet

The lander is expected to touch down on Mars about 3 p.m. EST (2000 UTC) on Monday.

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NASA, Insight, Martian Wind
NASA’s InSight spacecraft, destined for the Elysium Planitia region in Mars’ northern hemisphere, undergoes launch preparations at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. VOA

After traveling hundreds of millions of miles through space, NASA’s latest Mars probe will arrive Monday at the Red Planet.

Scientists have carefully chosen where they want the probe, called InSight, to land, selecting a large volcanic plain named Elysium Planitia. They say the site has few rocks and less chance of wind gusts that could potentially knock over the lander.

The spacecraft will take a crucial six minutes to enter Mars’ atmosphere, descend and land. During that time, InSight will decelerate from an initial speed of 19,300 kmh (12,000 mph) down to just 8 kmh (5 mph) when it touches down. To aid the landing, scientists have equipped InSight with a parachute, descent thrusters and shock-absorbing legs.

If all goes well, InSight will make the eighth successful landing on Mars.

Mars, Insight
This is an illustration showing a simulated view of NASA’s InSight lander about to land on the surface of Mars. This view shows the underside of the spacecraft. VOA

“My heart is beating inside of my chest like a drum,” NASA project manager Tom Hoffman said Wednesday during a news conference about the planned landing.

Scientists say they are trying to determine whether the craft needs a small nudge to put it in the proper place for landing. Since InSight launched May 5, scientists have made four small tweaks to its path to ensure it arrives on target. Engineers were able to skip an additional nudge because the other maneuvers went so smoothly, and they say they might also be able to skip the final adjustment scheduled for Sunday.

By the time it lands, InSight will have traveled 484 million kilometers (300.7 million miles). However, once the lander is on the Martian surface, it cannot move, as it is not a rover. Scientists say it is critical that InSight land in the correct location, because wherever it lands is where it will stay.

NASA says the landing site has been particularly quiet in recent weeks, with few storms.

“We’re expecting a very plain day on Mars for the landing, and we’re very happy about that,” said Rob Grover who is overseeing the landing phase.

NASA Insight
A visitor records herself at a NASA display at the Lompoc Airport before the launch of a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying NASA’s InSight Mars lander, which lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, VOA

Once landed, Insight has a unique mission to explore Mars’ interior. While other missions have sought to better understand the planet’s surface and atmosphere, this is the first to focus exclusively on what is under Mars’ surface.

The $850 million InSight mission is planned to last about two years and will try to gather an array of information, including Mars’ below-ground temperature and seismic activity, as well as to carry out an underground mapping project.

Insight is armed with a crane, heat probe and seismometer and is able to hammer 5 meters (16.4 feet) below the surface.

Scientists are hoping the mission will help answer questions about the composition and evolution of the planet and whether Mars was formed from the same mixture of materials as Earth.

NASA, Insight
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. (IANS)

Once InSight touches down, it will wait for 16 minutes to allow the dust that it kicked up to settle down again. Then it will deploy solar arrays, a critical step that will allow the lander to power itself for the next two years. InSight also has a battery system, but that will only last one day.

Also Read: NASA is Concerned Over The Strains of Toilet Microbes on ISS

The lander is expected to touch down on Mars about 3 p.m. EST (2000 UTC) on Monday. Scientists hope to know quickly whether the landing was successful but say if communication with the spacecraft is delayed, they might not know InSight’s status for several hours or even days.

NASA’s website will be broadcasting news of InSight’s approach and landing all day Monday. (VOA)

Next Story

Heart Rate Gets Altered in Space But Returns to Normal on Earth

Upon return to Earth, space-flown heart cells show normal structure and morphology

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Heart Rate
Relatively little is known about the role of microgravity in influencing human Heart Rate at the cellular level. Pixabay

Heart Rate gets altered in space but return to normal within 10 days on Earth, say researchers who examined cell-level cardiac function and gene expression in human heart cells cultured aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for 5.5 weeks.

Exposure to microgravity altered the expression of thousands of genes, but largely normal patterns of gene expression reappeared within 10 days after returning to Earth, according to the study published in the journal Stem Cell Reports.

“We’re surprised about how quickly human heart muscle cells are able to adapt to the environment in which they are placed, including microgravity,” said senior study author Joseph C. Wu from Stanford University.

These studies may provide insight into cellular mechanisms that could benefit astronaut health during long-duration spaceflight, or potentially lay the foundation for new insights into improving heart health on Earth.

Past studies have shown that spaceflight induces physiological changes in cardiac function, including reduced heart rate, lowered arterial pressure, and increased cardiac output.

But to date, most cardiovascular microgravity physiology studies have been conducted either in non-human models or at tissue, organ, or systemic levels.

Relatively little is known about the role of microgravity in influencing human cardiac function at the cellular level.

Heart Rate
Heart Rate gets altered in space but return to normal within 10 days on Earth, say researchers who examined cell-level cardiac function and gene expression in human heart cells cultured aboard the International Space Station (ISS) for 5.5 weeks. Pixabay

To address this question, the research team studied human induced pluripotent stem cell-derived cardiomyocytes (hiPSC-CMs). They generated hiPSC lines from three individuals by reprogramming blood cells, and then differentiated them into heart cells.

Beating heart cells were then sent to the ISS aboard a SpaceX spacecraft as part of a commercial resupply service mission.

Simultaneously, ground control heart cells were cultured on Earth for comparison purposes.

Upon return to Earth, space-flown heart cells showed normal structure and morphology. However, they did adapt by modifying their beating pattern and calcium recycling patterns.

In addition, the researchers performed RNA sequencing of heart cells harvested at 4.5 weeks aboard the ISS, and 10 days after returning to Earth.

These results showed that 2,635 genes were differentially expressed among flight, post-flight, and ground control samples.

Most notably, gene pathways related to mitochondrial function were expressed more in space-flown heart cells.

A comparison of the samples revealed that heart cells adopt a unique gene expression pattern during spaceflight, which reverts to one that is similar to groundside controls upon return to normal gravity, the study noted.

Heart Rate
Past studies have shown that spaceflight induces physiological changes in cardiac function, including reduced Heart Rate, lowered arterial pressure, and increased cardiac output. Pixabay

According to Wu, limitations of the study include its short duration and the use of 2D cell culture.

In future studies, the researchers plan to examine the effects of spaceflight and microgravity using more physiologically relevant hiPSC-derived 3D heart tissues with various cell types, including blood vessel cells.

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“We also plan to test different treatments on the human heart cells to determine if we can prevent some of the changes the heart cells undergo during spaceflight,” Wu said. (IANS)