NASA’s InSight Mars Lander set for historic touch down on the Red Planet

NASA’s InSight Lander is set to touch down on Mars Monday, becoming the space agency’s first probe to reach the Red Planet in six years.

The unmanned spacecraft, built by Lockheed Martin, is expected to land on the Martian surface at approximately 3 p.m. ET after a journey of nearly 300 million miles.

The Lander will dig deeper into the planet than anything that's come before.

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InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will also be the first spacecraft to reach another planet launched from the West Coast. It blasted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California on May 5, 2018 atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas v 401 rocket.

NASA’s last landing on Mars took place in 2012 when the Curiosity Rover reached the Red Planet. The Rover, which has more than 12 miles on its odometer, is currently the only thing operating on the Martian surface.

The InSight mission, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will provide scientists with a wealth of data. “The landing will kick off a two-year mission in which InSight will become the first spacecraft to study Mars' deep interior,” explained NASA on its website. “Its data also will help scientists understand the formation of all rocky worlds, including our own.”

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The Lander had originally been scheduled to blast off in March 2016, but NASA suspended its launch preparations when a vacuum leak was found in the craft’s prime science instrument.

InSight is being followed to Mars by two mini-spacecraft that comprise NASA’s Mars Cube One (MarCo), the first deep-space mission for CubeSats, or tiny satellites. If MarCO makes its planned Mars flyby, it will attempt to relay data from InSight as it enters the planet’s atmosphere and lands, according to NASA.

The United States is the only country to successfully operate a spacecraft on the Martian surface. InSight represents NASA's ninth attempt to put a spacecraft on Mars; only one effort failed.

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The space agency's older, smaller rover, Opportunity, was roaming around up there until June, when a global dust storm knocked it out of service. Flight controllers haven't given up hope yet that it will be revived.

Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040 astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

Earlier this week, the space agency announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 Rover will land on the Red Planet. The expected date for the event is Feb. 18, 2021.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia and The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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