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Catch up on coronavirus stories and special reports, curated by Mike Allen everyday

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The Mars InSight lander as depicted in an illustration with its instruments deployed on the surface of Mars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Mars InSight lander has nearly completed its nearly 300 million mile journey and is preparing for a landing on Mars on Monday afternoon, at about 3 pm Eastern time.

Why it matters: If successful, the InSight lander would become the first U.S. robot to land on Mars since the Curiosity rover arrived there in 2012. Unlike other spacecraft sent to Mars, this one is not designed to seek signs of life, but rather to investigate the planet's interior for clues into how certain planets, including Earth, formed about 4 billion years ago.

What to watch: The U.S. is the only country to have successfully landed spacecraft on Mars, but a glitch-free landing is by no means guaranteed.

Mars InSight will enter the planet's atmosphere at a dizzying speed of about 12,300 miles per hour, and friction will heat the spacecraft up to 2,700 degrees Fahrenheit. A parachute and retro-rocket thrusters will work to slow it down sufficiently for a three-legged, soft landing on the Elysium Planitia — a flat region near the planet's equator.

  • This landing will differ from some of the previous rover landings, which involved a bouncing ball-like structure with the rovers sheltered inside. The Curiosity rover landed with the assistance of a skycrane, in which a descent stage slowed to a hover and lowered the rover to the ground — the culmination of a descent dubbed the "seven minutes of terror."

Details:

  • Launched on May 5, InSight will be the first spacecraft to drill down into the deep interior of the Red Planet, and scientists hope the data it gathers will give them clues into how the rocky planet formed.
  • The information it gathers could even shed light on how our home planet and others in our solar system evolved.

"InSight will address a fundamental issue of solar system science, not just specific questions about a single planet. By studying Mars, InSight would illuminate the earliest evolution of rocky planets, including Earth," NASA said in a mission fact sheet.

  • Two miniature spacecraft, known as Mars Cube One, are following InSight, but they won't land on Mars.
  • Instead, they'll serve as data relay stations to send information gathered by InSight to scientists on Earth.
  • These two spacecraft are the first-ever CubeSats, which are a category of ultra-small satellites, to go into deep space.
  • The mission isn't entirely a NASA operation. Several European institutions have contributed to its payload, including France's Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

How to watch: NASA will air live coverage of the InSight landing online starting at 2 pm Eastern on Monday. In addition, the agency is hosting watch parties at more than a dozen locations in the U.S. and other nations.

Go deeper: NASA spacecraft days away from risky landing (AP)

Go deeper

Biden: Disappointing jobs report shows recovery is a "marathon," not a "sprint"

President Biden said Friday that the disappointing April jobs report, which showed the U.S. economy added just 266,000 jobs last month, underscores the importance of the COVID-19 relief package and his other proposed spending plans.

Why it matters: Economists had expected a gain of around 1 million jobs last month, making this the biggest payrolls miss, relative to expectations, in decades.

1 hour ago - Health

WHO authorizes China's Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use

A medical worker administering a coronavirus vaccine in Nanjing, China, on May 7, 2021. Photo: Costfoto/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

The World Health Organization authorized China’s Sinopharm’s COVID-19 vaccine for emergency use on Friday, making it the sixth vaccine to receive clearance from the global health agency.

Why it matters: The authorization will allow COVAX, the WHO's initiative to equitably develop and distribute coronavirus vaccines, to purchase Sinopharm's vaccine and bolster its supply, according to the New York Times.

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Rae Cook/Axios

  1. Health: Coronavirus cases hit a seven-month low — Majority back vaccine proof requirements for travel, schools and work — The race to avoid a possible "monster" COVID variant.
  2. Politics: Why Biden's latest vaccine goal is his hardest yet.
  3. Vaccines: Pfizer begins application for full FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccine — Moderna says its COVID booster shot shows promise against variants.
  4. Economy: U.S. adds just 266,000 jobs in April, far below expectations — Americans' return to the skies could benefit smaller airlines.
  5. World: Amazon postpones Prime Day sales in India and Canada over coronavirus surge — Mixed response in Europe to Biden's vaccine patents bombshell — True COVID-19 death toll is double the official numbers, study finds.
  6. Variant tracker: Where different strains are spreading.

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