Hopefully, while you were landing great deals on Cyber Monday, you got a chance to watch National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) land on the Red Planet.
After six months of traveling through the vacuum of space, InSight began its descent towards its new home on Nov. 26, 2018 minutes before noon PT. During the “seven minutes of terror,” (length of descent) nerves and silence seized the control room at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL).
Every step of the landing had to be perfectly executed during these seven minutes. The following steps are stated below:
With perfect math, science and conditions, NASA was able to land InSight, marking their eighth successful landing on Mars. Along with the landing came initial images from InSight.
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
On May 5, 2018, InSight was launched from Vandenberg Air Force in California along with two small spacecrafts. Both were named Mars Cube One (MarCO). They traveled along with InSight for the majority of the trip but departed as InSight headed towards Mars.
(Fun Fact: Both MarCO were given the nicknames “Wall-E” and “Eva” after the characters from Pixar movie “Wall-E.” Their nicknames come as a result of their fire extinguisher push system like the fire extinguisher scene from “Wall-E.”)
MarCo was intended to test cube satellite ability to provide a real-time relay of telemetry (data sent from a satellite at high speeds to Earth) from InSight. Therefore, the news of a successful landing was delivered instantly by MarCO. Without MarCO, the control team would be waiting hours at JPL for any news―making the “seven minutes of terror” worse.
InSight may be the main accomplishment of the day, but MarCO played a crucial role and will surely increase cube satellites’ role in future deep space missions.
We’ll always have #Mars.
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) November 26, 2018
After a long distance travel, we all enjoy taking a shower to rejuvenate. Likewise, InSight bathed in the sun’s rays in order to recharge itself using solar panels. Once it was fully charged, the spacecraft was able to send an image of its new home.
— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 27, 2018
Soon after warming up, InSight will begin understanding its new home by collecting data of the weather and surface temperature using the Rotation and Interior Structure Equipment (RISE) antenna installed. Data will be collected for about two years and sent back to Earth consistently to understand Mars’s core.
During the first week, InSight’s cameras will be 3D modeling the area around it to find the best spot to place the equipment. Once it has determined these locations, it will place down the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) and Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3).
SEIS will analyze the seismic activity underground in order to understand the core of Mars. It is crucial that SEIS is not moved by Mars’s dust storms. If so, it would be devastating as misinformation sent back could change our textbooks as we know them. In addition, SEIS will help map out the interior core of Mars ― which has never been done before.
HP3 contains a mole at the end of the probe. Who would’ve thought that a mole would beat humans to Mars? Luckily no, the mole is simply the name given to its drilling probe. The mole’s job is to dig underground like a jackhammer. Every 20 inches, the mole will stop and release heat into the soil in order to measure its thermal conductivity. In addition, the mole will create vibrations as it burrows through the soil. These vibrations will be picked up by SEIS and relayed back to Earth.
InSight will be understanding its home and sending information about Mars’ interior for two years. Why should we care?
We know more about space than we know about our own planet. We know about the origins of stars, but we do not know how Earth’s core was formed. InSight is not just another Mars mission; it is a time machine that allows us to look 4.6 billion years into the past (estimated formation of Mars).
So if you’ve ever questioned the creation of our solar system and humanity, InSight’s landing has helped scientists get closer to that answer.