NASA launches first mission to study Mars' interior

06 May, 2018, 14:46 | Author: Sidney Guerrero
  • NASA Is Launching Its Latest Mars Lander To Study 'Marsquakes'

Nasa launched the Mars InSight lander from California rather than Florida's Cape Canaveral.

NASA launched its first interplanetary mission from the West Coast Saturday morning. Mars' north pole wobbles as the planet travels around the sun, and that will affect the time it takes for radio signals to travel back and forth between InSight and Earth.

It will place a seismometer on the ground to listen for seismic waves caused by marsquakes - the Martian analog to earthquakes - and by falling meteorites.

NASA has set the Mars Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) on a 480 million km trip to the red planet.

If the probe can slow down sufficiently and make a successful touchdown in late November, its mission will be able to map Mars' depths and allow scientists to broaden their understanding of how it and other rocky planets, like Earth, were formed more than 4 billion years ago.

Besides InSight, the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket gave a lift to a pair of mini test satellites, or CubeSats, that are trailing InSight to Mars to serve as a potential communication link. Just 93 minutes after launch, Centaur also separated from InSight, which was sent on its epic journey towards Mars. The U.S., in fact, is the only country to successfully land and operate a spacecraft at Mars. Only about 40 percent of all missions to Mars from all countries - orbiters and landers alike - have proven successful over the decades.

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If all goes well, the three-legged InSight will descend by parachute and engine firings onto a flat equatorial region of Mars - believed to be free of big, potentially risky rocks - on November 26.

"This mission will probe the interior of another terrestrial planet, giving us an idea of the size of the core, the mantle, the crust and our ability then to compare that with the Earth", said Nasa's chief scientist, Jim Green.

"This is of fundamental importance for us to understand the origin of our solar system and how it became the way it is today".

But the quakes do allow for similar studies of the Martian interior.

The mission, which will last almost two years, is being largely financed and coordinated by the U.S., although several European countries - primarily Germany and France, but also Spain and other nations - also have made key contributions. The lander will drill down into the crust of Mars to gather information.

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