By the time this is published, NASA’s InSight spacecraft will have landed on Mars to explore aspects of the planet never investigated before. What makes the mission special?
What it will study
InSight won’t be looking for life on Mars. It will study its insides — what it’s made of, how that material is layered and how much heat seeps out of it. This is important because Earth and Mars used to be similar — warm, wet and shrouded in thick atmospheres — before they took different paths 3-4 billion years ago. Mars stopped changing, while Earth continued to evolve. With InSight, scientists hope to compare Earth to Mars, and better understand how a planet’s starting materials make it more or less likely to support life.
InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is on a 24-month mission. The landing site is Elysium Planitia, where InSight can stay still and quiet all through.
The lander (6m × 1.56m, deck height 83-108 cm) carries a robotic arm 1.8 m long. It is powered by two solar panels, and carries a seismometer, heat probe and a radio science experiment. Two complementary engineering cameras help with navigation and hazard avoidance. One is mounted on the arm; the other on the front of the lander.
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
How to know it’s landed
From Earth, NASA team will be monitoring radio signals using a variety of spacecraft — and even radio telescopes on Earth — to find out what’s happening 146 million km away. Signals will come from various sources — the lander during descent; two experimental briefcase-sized spacecraft called MarCOs that flying behind InSight; InSight itself after landing; the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft during descent; the 2001 Mars Odyssey after InSight’s touchdown.