On Monday, NASA's InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander is scheduled for a soft touchdown on the surface of the planet Mars, the first spacecraft launched from the West Coast of the United States to reach another planet.
Earth's success rate at Mars is 40 percent, counting every attempted flyby, orbital flight and landing by the U.S., Russian Federation and other countries dating all the way back to 1960.
NASA is the only space agency to have made it, and is invested in these robotic missions as a way to prepare for the first Mars-bound human explorers in the 2030s.
This artist's impression obtained from NASA shows InSight's entry, descent and landing at Mars.
"Landing on Mars is exciting, but scientists are looking forward to the time after InSight lands", said Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters. NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter will help verify this as it flies over the landing site.
While Earth's tectonics and other forces have erased most evidence of its early history, much of Mars - about one-third the size of Earth - is believed to have remained largely static over the aeons, creating a geologic time machine for scientists. Then, the descent engines, known as retrorockets, begin to fire.
After a seven-month journey, the lander will scream through the red planet's thin atmosphere at more than 12,000 miles per hour in a live-or-die bid to settle (in one piece) onto a flat area near the equator.
The fun kicks off today at 14:40 EST, when the spacecraft separates from the cruise stage that has carried it to Mars.
Should the diminutive spacecraft prove themselves viable, NASA boffins have said the tech could have applications elsewhere in the solar system and at the very least allow for a "bring your own relay" communications option during the critical touchdown phases. Because the entire landing sequence only takes six and a half minutes, the lander would already be on the ground by the time a signal from Earth arrived. 15 seconds later, the spacecraft will experience maximum deceleration which, along with the heating, could make radio contact a bit wobbly.
All being well, the InSight probe should enter the Martian atmosphere at 12,300mph before an array of 12 thrusters attempts to slow it down to 5mph for a safe touchdown.
After that, the spacecraft turns, so its heat shield is pointing in the right direction.
The lander will still be traveling at Mach 1.66 when a 39 foot wide parachute deploys, slowing the spacecraft to about 135 miles per hour.
Two Earthbound radio telescopes, the Green Bank Observatory in West Virginia and Max Planck Institute in Efflesberg, Germany, will be trained on Mars in the hope of detecting the signals in the event of the experimental MarCOs not playing ball.
The US investment in InSight thus far is $813.8m, including $163.4m to actually launch the thing.
InSight is designed as the first mission to study and learn about the deep interiors of the red planet. And those CubeSats? A snip at around $18.5m.