NASA hopes InSight will illuminate Mars' unknown core

NASA hopes InSight will illuminate Mars' unknown core

InSight's successful landing makes it the first spacecraft to study the Red Planet's inner secrets. It launched May 5. "We know a lot of about its surface, its atmosphere and ionosphere, but not a lot about the first two miles of Mars' crust", the scientists said. Over the two years of InSight's primary mission, the experiment will build a picture of how much Mars wobbles as it rotates, using the lander as a fixed point on the planet's surface.

NASA's $850 million InSight mission is created to probe the interior of Mars with a seismometer, heat probe and other instruments to study how the planet formed. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will address fundamental questions about the formation of Earth-like planets by detecting the fingerprints of those processes buried deep within the interior of Mars, the space agency says.

"It was intense, and you could feel the emotion", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a NASA livestream about the landing's success.

Only NASA has so far managed to carry out a controlled entry, descent and landing, and many missions have failed.

On Monday afternoon, following "seven minutes of terror", the craft reached its final destination - Elysium Planitia, a flat plain near the Red Planet's equator - where it will now spend the next two years conducting scientific research focused on the planet's interior.

Mars has been the graveyard for a multitude of space missions.

InSight had a six-minute window in which to decelerate from just under 13,000mph to 5mph - landing entirely based on autonomous and pre-programmed systems.

Key to InSight's continued survival on the harsh surface of Mars is the deployment of its solar panels, which were stowed for the descent.

NASA's science chief, Thomas Zurbuchen said previously: "As humanity, as explorers - we're batting at less than 50 percent".

Reuters               Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrate
Reuters Engineers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory celebrate

He said it was a little odd to realize that by the time word arrived, history had already been made eight minutes earlier because of the lag in communication between Mars and Earth.

It will take months to set up and fine-tune the instruments, and lead scientist Bruce Banerdt said he doesn't expect to start getting a stream of solid data until late next spring.

The first is a package of Franco-British seismometers that will be lifted on to the surface to listen for "Marsquakes".

"InSight's goal is to study the interior of Mars and take the planet's vital signs, its pulse and temperature", according to NASA.

The two satellites not only transmitted the good news in nearly real time, they also sent back InSight's first snapshot of Mars just 4 minutes after landing.

Seismic activity could come from various sources, Kirsten Siebach, assistant professor in Rice University's Department of Earth, Environmental, and Planetary Sciences told Gizmodo.

"We hit the Martian atmosphere at 12,300 miles per hour, and the whole sequence to touching down on the surface took only 6½ minutes", Hoffman said.

"MarCO was there to relay information back from InSight in real time, and we did that extraordinarily well", said Andy Klesh, MarCO chief engineer, at a press conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory here November 26 two hours after the InSight landing.




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