On Monday, NASA announced the next mission to Mars. Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations (InSight) will explore the depths of the Red Planet. And the team is, clearly, excited, issuing the following tweet:
The mission, which is scheduled to launch in 2016, will employ the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package, or HP3, to drill below the planet’s surface. The instrument is one of four that will be loaded aboard the Mars lander.
The HP3 was made by German Aerospace Center (DLR), and will crack through the surface by, in the words of a NASA press release, “literally pounding it into submission,” using a 14-inch “hollowed-out, electromechanically-festooned stake” called the Tractor Mole.
“We’re essentially doing the same thing any Boy or Girl Scout would do on a campout, but we’re putting our stake down on Mars,” said Sue Smrekar, deputy project scientist for InSight from JPL via a news release.
The mission, like Curiosity, is scheduled to last two years, with the Mole descending 16 feet below the planet’s surface. Sensors will measure the internal temperature of Mars, giving researchers an opportunity to lean more about the thermal history of the planet by moving away from the Sun’s influence on the Martian surface.
Aside from measuring the planet’s internal temperature, InSight will also seek to determine the size and composition of the planet’s core.
French space agency Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales also is contributing to the mission, which will incorporate spaceflight technology developed during the 2007 Phoenix lander mission. InSight is designed to allow researchers to learn more about early planetary formation and planetary processes, says Smrekar in a NASA-produced video released Monday.
“We are missing cold hard data,” continued Smrekar, “and this is what this mission will provide.”
The $425 million lander is expected to land on Mars in September 2016, the Post’s Brian Vastag reports, and was selected over riskier missions, including a boat to explore methane lakes on Saturn’s moon, Titan, and a comet exploration mission.
The Mars mission comes on the heels of the highly successful — and much more expensive ($2.5 billion) — Curiosity rover mission. The mission launched the scientists at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) into the spotlight, allowing NASA to tap into a wealth of good will online, particularly via social media:
JPL will be leading the InSight mission as well and the team anticipates having a strong social media presence following on the heels of Curiosity’s successful media campaign.
So, here’s the question: Will you be following the InSight mission? If so, what do you anticipate the team will discover?
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