NASA Mars Insight Science mission launching in a few days

The NASA Insight Mars mission is targeting a launch within a few days. InSight will study the deep interior of Mars, taking the planet’s vital signs, its pulse and temperature. This makes InSight the first mission to give Mars a thorough checkup since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago.

Surface operations begin one minute after landing at Elysium Planitia on Mars. InSight’s prime mission on the surface is for one Martian year (approximately 2 Earth years); 708 Mars days, or sols, which is equal to 728 Earth days.

Some science data collection begins the first week after landing. InSight takes about 10 weeks from landing to complete the placement of instruments on the surface of Mars. The heat probe deploys and burrows to its full depth about seven weeks later. After that, the lander sits still and collects data from the instruments.

After the dust from landing settles (about 16 minutes later), the motors for InSight’s solar arrays warm up and prepare to unfurl its solar panels. This is an important activity that ensures that InSight has all the power it needs for surface operations. This and other tasks on landing day take place autonomously, without human intervention.

InSight Science Goals:

To uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by investigating the interior structure and composition of Mars. The mission will also determine the rate of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.

Taking the Planet’s Pulse

The InSight lander carries a seismometer, SEIS, that listens to the pulse of Mars. The seismometer records the waves traveling through the interior structure of a planet. Studying seismic waves tells us what might be creating the waves. On Mars, scientists suspect that the culprits may be marsquakes, or meteorites striking the surface.

Taking the Planet’s Temperature
InSight’s heat flow probe, HP3, burrows deeper than any other scoops, drills or probes on Mars before it. It will investigate how much heat is still flowing out of Mars. Its observations will shed light on whether Earth and Mars are made of the same stuff, and provide a sneak peek into how the planet evolved.

Checking the Planet’s Reflexes
Like Earth, Mars wobbles a little as it rotates around its axis. To study this, two radio antennas, part of the RISE instrument, track the location of the lander very precisely. This helps scientists test the planet’s reflexes and tells them how the deep interior structure affects the planet’s motion around the Sun.