Missions to other planets are a time-consuming process. Just the planning part takes a long time to complete, let alone construction and launch. So it should come as no surprise that NASA has announced the selection of the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, or InSight, mission to Mars, which is set for 2016. The focus of this one is to better understand the processes that shape planets. To that end, it will drill into Mars for hard data.
NASA notes that InSight “will get below Mars’ skin by literally pounding it into submission with a 14-inch (35-centimeter), hollowed-out, electromechanically-festooned stake called the Tractor Mole.” Essentially, it will drive a large stake up to 16 feet into the ground in order to take internal temperature readings. The temperature being given off by Mars’ interior should provide information on its thermal history — something about which we’ve only been able to speculate.
Other than our own planet, our knowledge of inner planetary workings is relatively minor when compared to the wealth of data we’ve been able to comb the galaxy for over the years. We just haven’t had that many chances to examine other celestial bodies. Those chances we did have had other goals in mind.
Sue Smrekar, deputy project scientist for InSight, explains in detail exactly what InSight is looking to accomplish better than anyone:
Getting well below the surface gets us away from the sun’s influence and allows us to measure heat coming from the interior[.] InSight is going take heartbeat and vital signs of the Red Planet for an entire Martian year, two Earth years. We are really going to have an opportunity to understand the processes that control the early planetary formation.
Assuming that the launch window remains constant, which is in and of itself a big assumption, InSight is projected to begin its flight to Mars in March of 2016. That’s just over three and a half years from now. Mars sure is popular lately.
- NASA’s Curiosity just fired its laser for the first time
- The landing of that rover from a NASA engineer’s perspective is interesting
- Curiosity spent its first weekend on Mars updating software
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