NASA’s upcoming InSight mission will be the first of any to go to Mars to investigate the deep subsurface of the red planet. The goal is to learn more about Mars' composition and the formation of terrestrial planets.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Originally planned to launch in March of 2016, technical difficulties resulted in delays, but engineers repaired those malfunctions and another golden opportunity to send InSight to its destination is coming up.
NASA is now planning to launch the InSight probe by May of 2018 from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The event will go down in history as the first time we use this launch pad for an interplanetary mission.
In the meantime, InSight is being assembled and tested by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Colorado.
The next few months will give NASA extra time to prepare InSight's instruments and ensure their working order. Following the launch, InSight should reach Mars by November and land on its surface.
InSight will yield valuable data about Mars when it drills almost 10 feet below the planet's surface. An onboard seismometer will detect and report ground movements known as ‘marsquakes’ while a heat probe will keep track of any heat that may emanate from the planet’s interior.
NASA shared the following animation on YouTube five years ago that depicts how the InSight probe will initialize once it lands:
Unlike the Earth, which is teeming with tectonic activity and sub-surface churning, Mars’ interior has remained relatively undisturbed for billions of years. The circumstances surrounding Mars give scientists a unique opportunity to learn more about rocky planet formation.
But it’s not just the ground-based sensors that are important; a radio communicator built into InSight will also enable scientists to study the slight deviations known to exist in Mars' rotational patterns.
InSight will join a plethora of other missions that are also unlocking the secrets of Mars, including two rovers, three orbiters, and the upcoming Mars 2020 rover mission that will explore the planet further for signs of life.