Are you excited? Are you nervous? Today could mark another major step for the space community around the globe and its relationship with Earth’s big red neighbor, 54.6 million kilometers away, Mars.
Today, NASA’s InSight lander will be touching down on Mars to complete an important mission that will help the scientific community gain a better understanding of the planet, and maybe even run into a few Martians while up there. You can even live stream the landing to get a front row seat to the historic event.
InSight’s mission is unique to previous missions in and around the planet. In short, the Insight lander mission is to study the inner space of Mars: meaning examining the red planet’s crust, mantle, and core. Yet, before that happens, today, the InSight needs to be able to stick its landing; a task that is no easy feat.
You probably have a lot of questions about the Insight Mars landing. Today is your lucky day. Here are five things you should know about InSight’s mission: perfect gems for those of you who want to seem informed when you go out this week with your peers.
InSight Will Be Studying the Composition of Mars
Your first question may revolve around what the Insight Lander is actually studying. First and foremost, InSight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. As stated above, Insight is visiting the red planet to check out the 4.6 billion-year-old planet’s interior structure.
It’s almost time! In less than 15 hours, I’ll plunge through the #Martian atmosphere. But before I do, my team tweaked my flight path one last time to ensure I’m on track for my #MarsLanding tomorrow. Read: https://t.co/6ekCBE2vUW pic.twitter.com/HiejIwCoHb— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 26, 2018
The science community has a lot of questions about the formation of rocky planets in the solar system and Mars may have the answers. Even more so, the InSight will be taking a hard look at the tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on the planet.
The InSight lander is equipped with a plethora of advanced tools to get under the planet's crust and collect important data, like temperature or heat flow, the planet’s pulse, and “reflexes”. It is good to mention, that this is the first time in history that Mars is getting such a thorough inspection.
Landing On Mars is Very Tricky
Before the InSight even lands on Mars, there are countless steps that need to occur upon entry into the red planet’s atmosphere. Only 40% of missions to Mars are successful across the board, with the United States being the only nation to have success with their trips to Mars.
Mars itself is very unforgiving. For example, the planet has approximately 38% of the earth's gravity as well as 1% of the Earth atmosphere - meaning there is little friction to stop the 21,000 kph spacecraft. Do not forget about Mars’s unpredictable weather and violent sandstorms.
Nevertheless, the NASA InSight team have put in thousands of man hours examining every conceivable factor and planning for every outcome.
InSight is Based On ‘Reliable’ Tech
The solar powered, InSight takes its designs from the proven design NASA Mars Phoenix Lander. With its solar panels deployed the InSight is 6 meters long and has a 1.56 lander diameter, weighing in at approximately 360 kilograms.
The InSight lander also includes a host of sensors to measure weather and magnetic field variations as well a camera on the lander’s 1.8-meter long arm that will provide 3D views of the landing site, and handle instruments, like its seismometer.
MarCO is Also Part of the Mission
You may not know that there is an additional mission taking place alongside NASA’s mission to Mars. The rockets that sent InSight to space also launched an additional experiment that includes the two small aircraft called the Mars Cube One, or MarCO.
Only the size of a briefcase, they are on a separate flight path from InSight with the mission to test new deep space communication equipment, that could allow for the potential of having even better deep space communication, sending data from Mars, or other planets, more effectively.
The view of Mission Control at @NASAJPL where all the data from my #MarsLanding will come through tomorrow. The room is buzzing with @NASASocial participants. I’m ready for my date with #Mars. pic.twitter.com/TRFRb06r6i— NASAInSight (@NASAInSight) November 25, 2018
There’s always been a strong fascination with Mars. The red planet itself has found a special place in the minds of scientists and is at the heart of pop culture. There is a good chance that the first time you heard the term “Martian” was in a sci-fi movie.
But, why? Out of all the Earth’s planetary neighbors, Mars is the planet that has the biggest potential of life, both in the distant past and in the potential future. The planet boasts some impressive stats like its 24.6-hour days, snowy polar caps, and proximity to Earth. Many agencies around the world believe that it is the most realistic option for building a future human settlement.
There is something alluring about the planet. As described by Bob Crossley, emeritus professor of English at the University of Massachusetts in Boston, "There was just enough of a possibility that Mars might be able to support an intelligent population that made it fascinating for masses of people.”
"Somewhere deep in my own psyche, and maybe for other people as well, there is a desire for another world," he said. "For me, the deepest meaning of Mars is it represents some kind of longing for something outside ourselves, something outside our own world."
Who knows? Maybe your great grandchildren will be taking trips to Mars, the same way you might fly to another country. Nevertheless, InSight’s mission could lay the foundation for humanity’s future on Mars, and give the world more insight into the big red neighbor.