NASA’s Mars InSight Mission One Year On

It’s been a little over a year since NASA’s InSight lander touched down on Mars on Elysium Planitia on Mars. In that year a remarkable amount of scientific data has been recorded and analysed by NASA. But before we get into what’s been happening on Mars, here’s a quick recap of InSight’s incredible journey and some of the probe’s unique features.

May 5, 2018 (4:05 a.m. PT/7:05 a.m. ET)

Launch Vehicle:
Atlas V-401

Launch Location:
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California

Nov. 26, 2018, at 11:52:59 a.m. PT (2:52:59 p.m. ET)

Landing Site:
Elysium Planitia, Mars

Mission Duration:
A little over 1 Mars year (~2 Earth years); 709 Sols (Mars days), or 728 Earth days

InSight’s Unique Experiment Features:
Heat Flow and physical properties package (HP3)
Seismic experiment for interior structure (SEIS)
Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE)

Insight is attempting to gather data that will give scientists some clue about Mars’ past, taking “vital signs” readings from the planet. With SEIS, they are measuring marsquakes, meteor strikes and other phenomena causing seismic waves. The HP3 probe is meant to provide scientists with data about what heat flows from within Mars. The attempt to understand whether Earth and Mars are made of the same stuff, and how the red planet evolved, is at the heart of these experiments. Regrettably, the mole which has been digging down into Mars has encountered numerous difficulties and has not been successful in launching the SEIS experiment properly. To date, NASA has not been successful at digging any deeper than twenty centimeters, whereas their plan was to reach much deeper into Mars. Lastly, the RISE experiment is tracking the wobble of Mars’ North Pole as the sun pushes and pulls it in its orbit. This helps scientists determine the size and composition of Mars’ core.

This mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science. InSight’s science goals are to uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by investigating the interior structure and composition of Mars. The mission will also determine the rate of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.

Science aside, the interest this craft has generated because of the unique science experiments onboard, make it an interesting NASA mission to keep our eye on. There are answers to age-old questions and much to be learned about our distant neighbor, Mars. With any luck, the attempts to bury the HP3 experiment will succeed and the data will begin to flow.


Photo credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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