NASA’s InSight lander will be first to study Mars’ interior

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NASA's InSight lander will be first to study Mars' interior

NASA’s InSight lander – a robotic geologist of sorts – is winging its way to Mars. It will be the first spacecraft ever to study the planet’s interior.

CGTN’s Hendrik Sybrandy reports.

It’s the first interplanetary launch from California rather than Florida.

“When a mission gets off the ground at the very first launch opportunity, that’s something pretty special,” said Pieter Kallemeyn, InSight Spacecraft Team Lead.

The spacecraft will spend the next six and a half months hurtling toward the Red Planet where, if all goes well, it will perform some groundbreaking science, literally. It will be the first outer space robotic explorer to study the interior of Mars.

“We’re going to map out the thickness of the crust, the size of the core, the composition of the mantle, and core for the planet, sort of get the first map of the deep inside of Mars,” said Bruce Banerdt, InSight Principal Investigator.

A seismometer placed by a robotic arm on Mars’ surface will measure earthquakes and the impact of meteorites. A probe that uses a self-hammering mechanical mole to burrow five meters below the surface will measure how heat flows in Martian soil. And an on-board radio will track the wobble in Mars’ spin, which could reveal how much liquid rests deep inside the planet.

“The interior of a planet is incredibly difficult to investigate because we can’t go there,” said Dave Brain of the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics. “It feels close but it’s really far away.”

Brain said studying Mars’ interior could help Earthlings better understand theirs.

“We can make this nice comparison between a big planet and a small planet that teaches us more about how Earth should evolve going forward,” Brain said.

The InSight spacecraft was built by the U.S. aerospace company Lockheed Martin at its Colorado facility, from where the mission will be run. It’s scheduled to arrive at Mars on November 26th. But its descent to the ground will be tricky.

“We go from 12,000 miles per hour at the start down to zero and that all happens in the span of seven minutes,” Kallemeyn said.

After touchdown, InSight’s instruments will be deployed and a long-awaited, deeper exploration of the planet, expected to last at least two years, will begin.