Though the ESA has stolen a lot of thunder lately with its groundbreaking Rosetta mission that’s currently chilling out on a comet, NASA is still hard at work on its next trip to Mars. Want a sneak peek?
The U.S. space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has revealed a first look at NASA's new InSight Mars lander. The pic is from the development of the lander, and shows technicians in a Lockheed Martin clean room for the start of the mission's assembly, test and launch operations (ATLO) phase.
According to NASA, the InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) mission is set to launch in March 2016 and land on Mars six months later. It will investigate processes that formed and shaped Mars, and officials say it should help scientists better understand the evolution of our inner solar system's rocky planets, including Earth.
"The InSight mission is a mix of tried-and-true and new-and-exciting. The spacecraft has a lot of heritage from Phoenix and even back to the Viking landers, but the science has never been done before at Mars," said Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space Systems. "Physically, InSight looks a lot like the Phoenix lander we built, but most of the electronic components are similar to what is currently flying on the MAVEN spacecraft."
The plan is for InSight to send a stationary lander with a robotic arm that will deploy on the surface and burrow into the ground. The national space agencies of France and Germany are partnering with NASA by providing InSight's two main science instruments. The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) will measure waves of ground motion carried through the interior of the planet, from "marsquakes" and meteor impacts. The Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package will measure heat coming toward the surface from the planet's interior.
Another aspect of the mission seeks to determine whether the planet has a molten or a solid core. The mission calls to use the radio link between InSight and NASA's Deep Space Network antennas on Earth to measure the wobble in Mars' rotation.
All these robotic exploratory missions are awesome, and we're glad NASA is still pushing forward. But c'mon — it's past time to get a human up there.