NASA Set to Launch Robot Geologist to Dig Deep Below the Surface of Mars

The InSight spacecraft will start its Mars mission this weekend. The robot will investigate what is below the surface of the planet in a world first research project.
Jessica Miley

NASA is sending a robotic geologist to Mars this week to gather vital information about the planet's makeup. Six years after the last Mars landing, the InSight spacecraft will launch this weekend. 

Once on the planet, the robot will begin to take measurements of ‘marsquakes’ - the planet's equivalent of earthquakes - as well as track the planets wobbly rotation. 

The robot will also investigate what is below the surface of the planet in a world first research project. The information gathered will help scientist begin to understand how both Mars and Earth were formed more than 4.5 billion years ago. 

Despite Mars being smaller and less geologically active than Earth, it shares lots of similarities that will hopefully unlock many secrets about our Earth and beyond. Aboard InSight will be two small, briefcase-sized satellites. 

NASA Set to Launch Robot Geologist to Dig Deep Below the Surface of Mars
Source: NASA

CubeSats tested as comms link

These two satellites will leave the spacecraft after liftoff and follow the ship for the six months it will take to get to Mars. These two CubeSats won’t stay on Mars but will be tested as a communication link between InSight and Earth. 

The two tiny satellites are named WALL-E and EVE after the famous animated movie characters. They got these cute names because the satellites use a propulsion system very similar to that what is used to expel foam in a fire extinguisher. 

In the 2008 hit animated film WALL-E, the main character used a fire extinguisher to shoot through space. Currently, Insight is set to launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on early Saturday morning. The historical morning will be the first NASA mission launch from a location other than Florida's Cape Canaveral. 

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People in the area should see evidence of the launch around 7:05 a.m. EDT/4:05 a.m. PDT. Despite having the best technology that NASA can offer, the chances of the spacecraft actually reaching Mars is fairly low. 

Safe landing key to successful mission

When all Mars missions are combined, successful missions only make up 40 percent. However NASA has some good history behind them, the US is the only country to have successfully landed and operated spacecraft on Mars. 


The first successful landing occurred with the 1976 Vikings and the most recent was the 2012 Curiosity Rover. One of the biggest challenges for getting a spacecraft to Mars is the transition from the flight to the planet's surface. 

The InSight spacecraft will use parachute deployment and engine firings to make its descent. This is the same method that the Phoenix lander did in 2008. 

Landing on Mars is "a hugely difficult task, and every time we do it, we're on pins and needles," says Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The entire process of entry, descent, and landing for Insight will take roughly seven minutes. 

"Hopefully, we won't get any surprises on our landing day. But you never know," said NASA project manager Tom Hoffman. Once safely on the planet, InSight will use a slender cylindrical probe to tunnel nearly 5 meters into the Martian soil. 

A seismometer will be removed from the lander by a mechanical arm and will measure vibration monitoring once installed directly on the planet's surface. This is the first time such rigorous studies have been done on the geology of Mars. "Mars is still a pretty mysterious planet," Banerdt said. "Even with all the studying that we've done, it could throw us a curveball."

Via: NASA, Phys.Org


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