Since the beginning of Space age, we, the earthlings, have been trying to send robotic missions to almost all the corners of the visible universe. And, whenever the question of planetary exploration arises, the Red planet Mars is the first one to strike our minds. After the Earth, Mars is the most habitable planet in our solar system due to several factors. This is the reason that whenever it came to planetary exploration, Mars has always been our main focus of interest and more missions have been sent to explore this red planet than to any other place in the solar system. Mariner was the first spacecraft to visit mars from earth in 1965, with the Mars InSight mission of 2018 being the latest one.
Managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, commonly know as InSight mission, is a robotic lander primarily designed to study the deep interior of the Red Planet. The mission was launched on 5 May 2018 aboard an Atlas V-401 rocket and it successfully landed at Elysium Planitia on Mars on 26 November 2018. The landing of the rover on martian surface was the most critical point in the rover’s journey, because during landing, the rover had to slow down from a whooping 12,500 miles per hour to 5 miles per hour in just seven minutes!
“The hairs on the back of my neck would start rising a little bit higher, a little bit higher, And then when we finally got the confirmation of touchdown, it was completely amazing. The whole room went crazy. My inner 4-year-old came out.”
This is what Tom Hoffman, the project manager for the mission, said at a news conference after the landing.
Why is this mission so special?
No doubt, each and every space mission is special in its own way, but Mars InSight mission is a bit more remarkable as this can bring forth a completely new understanding of the solar system’s terrestrial planets, ie. Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars, including the earth’s moon.The total cost of the mission is estimated to be about $814 million. The InSight mission has following main goals-
- To examine the interior of Mars and to find out what it is made of, and what processes occur there
- To determine the size and composition of the Martian core, crust and mantle
- To find our how warm the interior is and how much heat is still flowing through
- To study the tectonic activities occurring on the martian surface
- To estimate the frequency of meteorites slamming into the red soil.
To achieve all these goals, an advanced apparatus is the foremost requirement, and our InSight lander is appropriately equipped with it. Most of the instruments aboard this robot have been built by European agencies. These include –
- The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) – It will detect seismic waves from meteorite impacts, magma movements inside the planet, or marsquakes.
- The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3) – It will burrow about 5 meters (16 feet) into the surface to sense the underground heat.
- The Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) – It will aim to provide more information about the composition of the Martian core. It will keep careful track of where the lander is located.
InSight also has a robotic arm that is more than 7 feet (2.4 m) long. This arm will place the seismometer and heat-flow probe on the surface for their measurements. The arm also features a camera that will take “color 3D views of the landing site, instrument placement, and activities,”. In addition, InSight has sensors to provide information on the weather, and any changes in the local magnetic field nearby the lander. Impressive!
“We can basically use Mars as a time machine to go back and look at what the Earth must have looked like a few tens of millions of years after it formed,” said, Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator of the mission. With this notion in mind, a new mission to unravel the unknown has begun and we look forward to extract an ocean of information from this project to understand the past of our planet in a better way.
All the best InSight!