NASA InSight Mars Lander Will Study Earthquakes On Mars

Orbital ATK employees wearing protective clothing

NASA's InSight Mars lander, tucked inside its protective payload fairing, is moved to the launchpad to be attached to its United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

The Atlas V will also launch two small CubeSats that will trail InSight to Mars to test deep-space communications technology.

The InSight mission is Nasa's first Mars rover launch since the Curiosity vehicle landed on the red planet in 2012. It will also help us understand the size and make-up of Mars' core, such as what materials it's composed of and how dense it is.

The $1-billion, joint U.S.

Since Earth and Mars are thought to have formed in a similar way, about 4.5 billion years ago, NASA hopes the mission will help understand how the planets formed and why are so different now.

Like Earthquakes on Earth, Mars is suspected of experiencing its own quakes which emanate from either tectonic activity or from meteorites striking the planet's surface. As a result, Mars has retained the "fingerprints" of early evolution, said Banerdt. The InSight instrument will be on the ground and is expected to yield much more insight into such phenomenon, which are thought to be smaller than 6.0 on the Richter scale, given that Mars doesn't have the same plate structure as Earth. They won't stop at Mars, just fly past.

WALL-E and EVE are headed to Mars. That's because they're equipped with the same type of propulsion used in fire extinguishers to expel foam. Californians along the coast down to Baja will have front-row seats for the pre-dawn flight.

The success rate, counting orbiters and landers by NASA and others, is only about 40 per cent. InSight's, by contrast, will detect Martian quakes or temblors that jostle the spacecraft by the width of a single atom.

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The first time was in 1976, with the Viking 1 and 2 spacecraft.

InSight will use the same type of straightforward parachute deployment and engine firings during descent as Phoenix lander did in 2008. "We're at the limits of what life on Earth can tolerate", Brian Hynek, who led the team to collect samples from the lake, said in a statement. A spacecraft that lands and then just sits there is something of a cosmic meh.

We know you want to sleep in. This kicks off at 11:30 BST on Nasa's website.

A slender cylindrical probe dubbed the mole is created to tunnel almost 16 feet (5 metres) into the Martian soil. Once the Insight's globe is on the surface, it can take the most sensitive seismic measurements ever made on another planet. InSight is actually two years late flying because of problems with the French-supplied seismometer system that had to be fixed. It weighs 694 kilograms.

All they recorded was the landers' shaking as the wind whistled by. The moon still holds seismometers left behind by the 12 moonmen. The InSight will send a hammer drill to penetrate beneath the Mars surface. Banerdt jokingly calls it "the biggest parking lot on Mars". However, the mission will last for at least one Martian year or 26 Earth months.

Touchdown day is when things will get tense, said Banerdt.

"We'll study its pulse by "listening" for marsquakes with a seismometer", he says.

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