NBC News' Mars InSight's landing team leader is all 'nerves and excitement' ahead of risky touchdown includes a conversation with Rob Grover, "who leads the team in charge of InSight's landing at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California."
Question: What does Grover mean by InSight's nylon parachute being a "soft good"?
NBC: What’s the riskiest part of the landing?
Grover: There’s a couple of times in the control room where we’ll be particularly happy as the landing is unfolding. One of them is parachute deployment. The parachute is not inherently extra-risky. But rather than being a rigid design like the metal lander, which is very predictable, it’s made of nylon. It’s what we call a soft good. And when we deploy that, it’s a little less predictable. While we’ve had great success deploying parachutes on Mars, and we expect to again, it’s one of those moments when we’ll be happy when it’s out and we know we’re descending under the parachute.
I think another one is, we have to have the radar working correctly in order to land. We have radar antennas underneath the lander. While the lander does navigation from the top of the atmosphere, it’s not accurate enough to know precisely where the ground is, so we need the radar to give us fresh information on how high we are above the ground and what velocity we’re descending at. Without the radar, we don’t have good enough information to land successfully. Once the radar successfully acquires the ground, then that’ll be another moment where we’ll kind of breathe a sigh of relief.