YES! NASA's InSight Landed on Mars. Here's What's Next
Kyle Maxey posted on November 27, 2018 |
Day 1 (Sol 0) of the InSight mission.  The lander sent this image back minutes after touchdown on the Martian surface. NASA's InSight Mars lander acquired this image of the area in front of the lander using its lander-mounted, Instrument Context Camera (ICC). (Image: NASA.)

Day 1 (Sol 0) of the InSight mission. The lander sent this image back minutes after touchdown on the Martian surface. It acquired this image of the area in front of the lander using its lander-mounted, Instrument Context Camera (ICC)  Currently, the dust cover is still over the lens of the camera. (Image: NASA.)

Just before 3pm EST, November 26, 2018, NASA's InSight craft landed successfully on Martian soil. Within minutes of touchdown, a jubilant room full of scientists and engineers tending to the craft's every move at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory erupted in celebration yet again.

InSight had sent back its first image of Mars.

A few hours later, NASA released a second image taken by a second camera located on InSight's Instrument Deployment Camera.

Following its photographic phase, InSight deployed its solar arrays and is steadily charging its batteries.  

But what comes next for the InSight mission?

In the coming days, a number of activities will begin that will establish the craft as not only a voyager, but a scientific tool.

The first scientific instrument that will become operational on InSight is the RISE (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment) tool. According to NASA, RISE should become operational on Day 1 (Sol 0). RISE will need to be operational for the full two years of the InSight mission. During that time, RISE will beam X-band radio signals back and forth to the Earth for several hours a day, attempting to notice if there is a subtle change in the wobble of the Martian world. Any indication of perturbations in the planet's axis will inform scientists about the internal structure of Mars.

NASA's InSight Mars lander acquired this image on Day 1 (Sol 0) of the mission, using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). (Image courtesy of NASA.)
NASA's InSight Mars lander acquired this image on Day 1 (Sol 0) of the mission, using its robotic arm-mounted, Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). (Image courtesy of NASA.)

Once RISE is up and running, the InSight team will take its time deploying the lander's other assets.

For the first three weeks of the mission, InSight will snap photos of its surroundings, learning as much as it can about its home. Unlike the images that were beamed back to mission control immediately after landing, these images will be stereo pairs that will provide a 3-dimensional view of the nearby terrain. These images will help NASA's scientists determine the best location for the craft's additional instruments.

Once a thorough survey of its surrounding is complete, InSight will deploy its robotic arm and practice the motions that it will run through to successfully deliver the mission's seismometer to the surface.

Fast forward a few more weeks, and InSight will be ready to deploy the aforementioned seismometer. Named the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS), the sophisticated and sensitive experiment will attempt to detect seismic waves associated with marsquakes, meteor impacts and other anomalies.

Finally, about a week after the SEIS tool is deployed, the Heat flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) will begin burrowing into the Martian soil.

"The mole at the end of the probe slowly burrows into the ground like a self-hammering nail. It hammers down for up to four hours at a time; each four-hour period is known as one "hammering cycle," NASA’s documents describe. "As it descends, it stops roughly every 19.5 inches (50 centimeters) to generate a pulse of heat. The probe watches how this pulse of heat travels through the subsurface material around it. It monitors how quickly or slowly the mole heats up the surrounding soil; this is known as measuring the ‘thermal conductivity’ of the soil."

With this data, NASA’s scientists will be able to complete a thorough dissection of the Martian strata, learning what type of geological activities were happening on the planet in eons past.

The next two years are going to very busy for the crew assigned to the InSight mission. If all is successful, InSight will reveal the answers to many of Mars' most intriguing geologic and planetary mysteries. Yesterday's landing was just the beginning of a scientific celebration that will last for quite a while.

Did you miss yesterday’s NASA livestream? You can view the recorded InSight landing here.



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