Published: Tue, November 27, 2018
Sci-tech | By Lila Blake

NASA hopes InSight will illuminate Mars' unknown core

NASA hopes InSight will illuminate Mars' unknown core

The robotic geologist - created to explore Mars' mysterious insides - must go from 12,300 miles per hour (19,800 kph) to zero in six minutes flat as it pierces the Martian atmosphere, pops out a parachute, fires its descent engines and lands on three legs.

The spacecraft reached the surface after being slowed by a parachute, supported by braking engines because of Mars' thin atmosphere. But just moments after landing-plus the eight minutes and seven seconds it takes for a radio signal to travel from Mars to Earth-the InSight spacecraft beamed home its first image from the Martian surface.

Instead, NASA's entry, descent and landing team (EDL) spent months pre-programing the spacecraft's landing, basing their calculations off of weather reports that they received from NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. The InSight mission, which cost around $814 million, plans to study Mars' deep interior.

What just happened? If you're a fan of all things Mars and space-related, we've got some good news for you.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory have a testbed that looks like a pile of gravel in a lab, complete with boulders and a full engineering model of InSight that they can recreate the landing site with.

A few minutes after landing, InSight sent the official "beep" to NASA to signal that it was alive and well, including a photo of the Martian surface where it landed.

But the engineers prepared the spacecraft to land during a dust storm if need be. NASA will also monitor radio pulses from InSight as a way to track Mars' rotation and wobble, which could help us understand its internal structure. It will take about three months for the team to perform all the necessary tests and begin to deploy the instruments that InSight carried to Mars.

An artist's concept shows the InSight lander, its sensors, cameras and instruments. Meanwhile, mission scientists will photograph what can be seen from the lander's perspective and monitor the environment.

"We are solar-powered, so getting the arrays out and operating is a big deal", Hoffman said.

InSight came to rest as planned in the middle of a vast, barren plain called the Elysium Planitia, close to the planet's equator.

If the instrument establishes that Mars has the remains of a liquid core it will suggest the planet once had a magnetic field that could have shielded early life - before dramatically and mysteriously weakening.

The robot absolutely has to start generating power to operate its systems and to warm equipment in the sub-zero temperatures that persist on the Red Planet. By using sophisticated geophysical instruments, InSight will address fundamental questions about the formation of Earth-like planets by detecting the fingerprints of those processes buried deep within the interior of Mars, the space agency says.

He said that it was hard to tell from the first photo whether there were any slopes nearby, but that it appeared he got the flat, smooth "parking lot" he was hoping for.

'This is a concern that there could be a problem on landing, so I will be excited when I know it's landed safely'. First images appear to confirm this has been achieved.

It would be NASA's eighth landing on Mars.

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