JPL Hopes To Put a Robot Spacecraft on Mars This Year to Study Its - and Our - Origins

Published : Sunday, February 4, 2018 | 6:05 AM

NASA/JPL-Caltech An artists' rendering of the robot NASA will send to Mars in 2018.

NASA/JPL-Caltech An artists' rendering of the robot NASA will send to Mars in 2018.

While NASA has made several successful voyages to the Red Planet over the last few decades, an upcoming 2018 trip will be the first to feature a robot with technologies designed to understand what goes on underneath its surface.

That’s the goal anyway, according to Jet Propulsion Lab’s Sue Smrekar, the deputy principal investigator of the mission, dubbed “InSight.”

“We have yet to look inside of Mars. We have only seen less than one percent of it,” says Smrekar. “What we are going to do now is look under the hood. We are going to look at the rest of Mars, the other 99.9 percent that we have never seen before.”

A hypersensitive seismometer to study ground tremors will make its way to Mars with temperature-measuring heat flow probe via a lander (a stationary spacecraft robot, as opposed to a rover, which moves around the surface on wheels). A robot arm will operate the seismometer and heat flow probe.

Scientists hope that by using these tools, they’ll have a window into Mars’ origins. “Previous missions to Mars have investigated the surface history of the Red Planet by examining features like canyons, volcanoes, rocks, and soil, but no one has attempted to investigate the planet’s earliest evolution—its building blocks— which can only be found by looking far below the surface. By studying the size, thickness, density, and overall structure of the Red Planet’s core, mantle, and crust, as well as the rate at which heat escapes from the planet’s interior, the InSight mission will provide glimpses into the evolutionary processes of all of the rocky planets in the inner solar system,” NASA said.

InSight will also help NASA find ice or water under Mars dusty surface. “I am sure that that information is going to be helpful for planning for future habitats for astronauts,” says Smrekar.

The InSight lander is scheduled to depart on Earth on May 5 and is due to arrive on Mars on Nov. 26, 2018.

 

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