Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – NASA has successfully launched “InSight” (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), a robotic lander that will study the interior of Mars after landing on the planet six months from now on Nov. 26.
Launched May 5, InSight will touch down at the Elysium Planitia, a broad plain that straddles the equator of Mars, where it will deploy a seismometer and burrow a heat transfer probe to study the planet’s early geological evolution. It will also perform a radio science experiment to study the internal structure of Mars. The trek to Mars will take 6.5 months and cover 484 million kilometers.
The 358 kg probe’s two-year science mission will be to discover the “fingerprints” of the processes that formed the rocky planets of the solar system. The “wheel-less” probe will measure the planet’s “vital signs: ‘its “pulse’ (seismology); ‘temperature’ (heat flow) and ‘reflexes’ (precision tracking), according to NASA.
It will use its 2.4 meter-long robotic arm to place a seismometer on the ground that will detect “marsquakes” (the Martian version of earthquakes). InSight also will drill 10 to 16 feet into the Martian surface, or 15 times deeper than any previous Martian mission, said NASA.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said the InSight mission aims to answer age-old questions — “Are we alone in the universe?” And “Is there potential for life on a planet that’s not Earth?”
“This is an important mission not just for the United states but an important mission for the world,” he said, “so we can better understand why planets change and ultimately understand even more about our own planet.”
InSight will fill the last gap in NASA’s exploration of Mars, said Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator. “We have mapped the surface of the entire planet in terms of visible features, topography, gravity and magnetic fields,” he said. “We have studied the atmosphere, both globally and at the surface. We have roved around the surface at four different places, studying the geology and piecing together the history of the surface.
“But until now, the vast regions of the planet deeper than a few miles, or so, (have) been almost completely unknown to us,” noted Banerdt. “InSight will change that with a single stroke.”
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