Seven Ways Mars InSight is Different

NASA’s Mars InSight
lander team is preparing to ship the
spacecraft from Lockheed Martin Space in
Denver, where it was
built and tested, to Vandenberg Air Force Base in
where it will become the first interplanetary mission to
from the West Coast. The project is led by NASA’s Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California.

We know what “The Red Planet” looks like from the outside —
but what’s going on under the surface of Mars? Find out more in
the 60-second video from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

NASA has a long and
successful track record at Mars. Since
1965, it has flown by, orbited, landed
and roved across the
surface of the Red Planet. What can InSight — planned for
launch in May — do that hasn’t been done before?

  1. InSight is the first mission to study the deep interior

A dictionary definition
of “insight” is to see the inner
nature of something. InSight (Interior Exploration using
Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will
just that. InSight will take the “vital signs” of Mars: its
pulse (seismology), temperature (heat flow), and its reflexes
(radio science).
It will be the first thorough check-up since
the planet formed 4.5 billion
years ago.

  1. InSight will teach us about planets like our own.

InSight’s team hopes that by studying
the deep interior of
Mars, we can learn how other rocky planets form. Earth and
Mars were molded from the same primordial stuff more than 4
billion years ago,
but then became quite different. Why didn’t
they share the same fate?

When it comes to rocky planets, we’ve
only studied one in
great detail: Earth. By comparing Earth’s interior to that
Mars, InSight’s team hopes to better understand our solar
system. What they
learn might even aid the search for
Earth-like exoplanets, narrowing down which
ones might be able
to support life. So while InSight is a Mars mission, it’s
more than a Mars mission.

  1. InSight will try to detect marsquakes for the first

One key way InSight will peer into the Martian interior is
studying motion underground — what we know as marsquakes. NASA
has not attempted to do this kind of science
since the Viking
mission. Both Viking landers had their seismometers on top of
the spacecraft, where they produced noisy data. InSight’s
seismometer will be
placed directly on the Martian surface,
which will provide much cleaner data.

Scientists have seen a lot of evidence suggesting Mars has
quakes. But unlike quakes on Earth, which are mostly caused by
tectonic plates
moving around, marsquakes would be caused by
other types of tectonic activity,
such as volcanism and cracks
forming in the planet’s crust. In addition, meteor
impacts can
create seismic waves, which InSight will try to detect.

Each marsquake would be like a flashbulb that illuminates
structure of the planet’s interior. By studying how seismic
waves pass
through the different layers of the planet (the
crust, mantle and core),
scientists can deduce the depths of
these layers and what they’re made of. In
this way, seismology
is like taking an X-ray of the interior of Mars.

Scientists think it’s likely they’ll see between a
dozen and a
hundred marsquakes over the course of two Earth years. The
are likely to be no bigger than a 6.0 on the Richter
scale, which would be
plenty of energy for revealing secrets
about the planet’s interior.

  1. First
    interplanetary launch from the West Coast

All of NASA’s interplanetary
launches to date have been from
Florida, in part because the physics of
launching off the East
Coast are better for journeys to other planets. But
will break the mold by launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base
California. It will be the first launch to another planet
from the West Coast.

InSight will ride on
top of a powerful Atlas V 401 rocket,
which allows for a planetary trajectory
to Mars from either
coast. Vandenberg was ultimately chosen because it had more
availability during InSight’s launch period.

A whole new region will get to see an interplanetary launch
when InSight rockets into the sky. In a clear, pre-dawn sky,
the launch may be
visible in California from Santa Maria to
San Diego.

  1. First
    interplanetary CubeSat

The rocket that will loft
InSight beyond Earth will also
launch a separate NASA technology experiment:
mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These
CubeSats will fly on their own path to Mars
behind InSight.

Their objective is to relay back
InSight data as it enters the
Martian atmosphere and lands. It will be a first
test of
miniaturized CubeSat technology at another planet, which
hope can offer new capabilities to future

If successful, the MarCOs could
represent a new kind of data
relay to Earth. InSight’s success is independent
of its
CubeSat tag-alongs.

  1. InSight
    could teach us how Martian volcanoes were

Mars is home to some impressive volcanic features. That
includes Tharsis — a plateau with some of the biggest
volcanoes in the solar
system. Heat escaping from deep within
the planet drives the formation of these
types of features, as
well as many others on rocky planets. InSight includes a
self-hammering heat probe that will burrow down to 16 feet (5
meters) into the
Martian soil to measure the heat flow from
the planet’s interior for the first
time. Combining the rate
of heat flow with other InSight data will reveal how
within the planet drives changes on the surface.

  1. Mars
    is a time machine

Studying Mars lets us travel to
the ancient past. While Earth
and Venus have tectonic systems that have
destroyed most of
the evidence of their early history, much of the Red Planet
has remained static for more than 3 billion years. Because Mars
is just
one-third the size of Earth and Venus, it contains
less energy to power the
processes that change a planet’s
structure. That makes it a fossil planet in
many ways, with
the secrets of our solar system’s early history locked deep

Learn more about InSight’s mission goals and
at a live public talk, part of JPL’s von Karman
lecture series
, on Thursday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. PST (10 p.m.
EST). The event
will be streamed live on

More information about InSight
is at:

News Media Contact

Andrew Good
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.


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