NASA is on its way to explore the interior of Mars. The Space Agency today held a press conference at its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, describing its next mission on the Red Planet.
NASA's in-depth exploration, geodesy, and heat transport (InSight), a stationary lander, is expected to launch on May 5 and is the very first mission dedicated to deep Mars exploration. It will also be the first NASA mission since the Apollo moon landings to place a seismometer on the ground of another planet.
For Bruce Banerdt of JPL, Principal Investigator at InSight, it's also a work of love. Banerdt has worked more than 25 years to make the mission a reality.
"InSight is in some ways like a scientific time machine that brings back information about the earliest stages of Mars formation 4.5 billion years ago," said Banerdt. "It will help us to learn how to form rock bodies, including the Earth, their moon, and even planets in other solar systems."
InSight includes a number of sensitive instruments to collect data, and unlike a rover mission, these instruments require a stationary lander from which to carefully place them on and below the Martian surface.
Mars is, so to speak, the exoplanet next door ̵
NASA is not the only agency that is enthusiastic about the mission. Several European partners have contributed tools or instrument components to the InSight mission. The French Center National d'Études Spatiales led a multinational team building a highly sensitive seismometer for the discovery of a Martian earthquake. The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has developed a heat probe that can burrow underground up to 5 meters deep and measure the heat from inside the planet.
"InSight is a truly international space mission," said Tom Hoffman. Project Manager at JPL. "Our partners have delivered incredibly capable instruments that will allow them to gain unique scientific insight after landing."
InSight is currently based at Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, and is being prepared for launch. On Wednesday it completed a so-called spin test: The entire spacecraft is rotated at high speed to confirm its center of gravity.
This is critical to his entry, descent and landing on Mars in November, Hoffman said. Next month, the spacecraft will be mounted on its rocket, links will be checked and the starting team will complete a final training session.
"This next month will be exciting," said Banerdt. "We have some final work to do, but we're almost ready to go to Mars."
NASA's next Mars lander spreads its solar wings
For more information about InSight, visit www.nasa.gov/insight