NASA InSight takes Mars' Pulse

On how NASA intends to use its next Mars mission, inSight, to take the red planet’s pulse and temperature using a quake sensor. Via ABC:

The Mars InSight lander, which blasted off in May, is due to touchdown tomorrow morning (November 27) just before 7:00am AEDT.

Its landing won’t be quite as nail-biting as Curiosity’s, but it is still risky, said the mission’s deputy lead, Sue Smrekar, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. In 2016, the European Schiaparelli lander, the only spacecraft to attempt to land on the planet since Curiosity, crashed and burned.

If the Mars InSight landing succeeds, it will be the first spacecraft to study the Red Planet’s inner secrets.

“We’ve had many missions that have looked at the surface of Mars, but we’re the first one that is really going to tell us about the interior of Mars,” she said. The InSight lander — short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — is very different to the Mars rovers.

“We do not have wheels — we actually need to stay in one place and be as quiet as possible,” Dr Smrekar said.

About the size of a dinner table with two solar panels attached, the InSight lander is designed to take Mars’s pulse and temperature. The craft is kitted out with a 1.8-metre robotic arm or “steampunk claw” that can delicately place two experiments — a 20-centimetre, dome-shaped seismometer, and a heat probe — into position. “This is super-important stuff for us,” Dr Smrekar said.

Viking 2, a previous mission to Mars did have a seismometer, but it stayed on the deck of the spacecraft.

“Basically it detected gusts of wind that made the lander shake, but you can’t really detect seismic waves using that configuration [on the spacecraft],” Dr Smrekar said.

“So, for the first time we’ve got a seismometer and actually placed it on the ground.”

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