“One of our key questions regarding habitability is, what are the key conditions planets need for life to form?”
NASA has successfully landed the InSight robotic lander on the surface of the planet Mars, making InSight the eighth lander to survive the trip.
The spacecraft was launched seven months ago and has travelled over 301 million miles to the red planet. It hit the Martian atmosphere at a top speed of 12,300 miles per hour.
It was thought that mission control would have to make some last minute adjustments to the algorithm that safely guides the spacecraft to the surface, but no intervention was needed.
The Spacecraft successfully landed in the Elysium Planitia, a plain that straddles the planets equator.
The time period from hitting the atmosphere and landing on the surface lasted nearly seven minutes and is considered one of the most dangerous sections of the mission.
InSight project manager Tom Hoffman at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory commented that: “During that short span of time, InSight had to autonomously perform dozens of operations and do them flawlessly – and by all indications that is exactly what our spacecraft did.”
The InSight robotic lander is now tasked with a two-year mission to investigate underneath the planet’s surface to broaden our understanding of how celestial bodies with rocky surfaces are formed.
Lori Glaze acting director of the Planetary Science Division in NASA’s Science Mission Directorate commented that: “We’ve studied Mars from orbit and from the surface since 1965, learning about its weather, atmosphere, geology and surface chemistry.”
“Now we finally will explore inside Mars and deepen our understanding of our terrestrial neighbor as NASA prepares to send human explorers deeper into the solar system.”
The InSight spacecraft contains a 50kg science payload holding a Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP³), Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and a Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE).
Using its seismometer or SEIS experiment, InSight will measure how quakes and seismic disturbances travel through the planet. Gaining an understanding of how the planet is layered will help scientist understand how the red planet was formed and show us how ices, metals and dust combined in the early days of the solar system to from rocky planets such as ours.
With the on-board heat probe or HP³ we will finally get a clear definition of the internal heat trapped under Mar’s surface. While this will provide a wealth of scientific data about the planet, it may also prove important for planning future colonisation efforts, including ones that may use geothermal energy supplies.
The Rotation and Structure Experiment (RISE) is tasked with discovering what happened to Mars magnetic field. Earths Magnetic field shields us from radiation and there is strong evidence that Mars also once had a strong magnetic field, but something stripped the planet of its protective layer.
Sue Smrekar InSight’s deputy principal investigator at JPL commented that: “One of our key questions regarding habitability is, what are the key conditions planets need for life to form?”
“Understanding a planet’s initial building blocks set the stage for how processes that affect the environment evolve over time.”
“Mars is a laboratory for how all these processes happen early in a planet’s formation. InSight will help constrain our models of how planets are made and change over time.”