NASA’s InSight Mars Lander Begins Probe on the Red Planet

After nearly seven months of a rigorous voyage through space, NASA’s Insight probe has landed on Mars. The probe has also successfully deployed its solar panels needed to power the lander on the Red Planet.

InSight made a scary descent to the planet’s surface after reaching Mars Atmosphere and had to make a complex multi-step routing to slow down from more than 19,000 kmph before it hit the ground. The probe had to autonomously deploy a supersonic parachute, gather its radar measurements and ignite its thrusters—all within 7 minutes of reaching the Martian atmosphere. More than half of all Mars missions have failed to arrive safely at the Red Planet over the years.

A diagram of NASA’s InSight Mars lander and its science instruments to look inside the Red Planet. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech – Adrian Mann/Tobias Roetsch/Future Plc

After the successful landing, NASA has now shifted to the probe’s solar panels—this will charge the probe batteries each day to help it carry out its missions. The mission includes listening for seismic vibrations on Mars, shedding light on the planet’s interior structure and an estimation of how many meteorites might be on collision course with the planet.

Since Mars is further away from the sun than Earth, it gets weaker sunlight which makes it crucial for InSight’s solar panels generate as much energy as possible. The probe will be conducting experiments for a whole Martian year on the Red Planet (Which is about two earth years) and has a scaled-up solar panel model (Insight has twin solar arrays, each capable of extending to a width of 2.2 meters. On a clear day, the probe gets about 600 to 700 watts from the panels, and even when dust settles on the panels – which could be a common occurrence on Mars – they can provide up to 200 to 300 watts of power for the probe ) compared to the one on the Phoenix Mars Lander Mission that ended in 2008.

In the coming days, NASA’s InSight is expected to conduct a self-audit of all its scientific instruments on board and survey the Martian surface for a good site to deploy the instruments. Then in a couple of months, the probe will set down its seismometer to listen for “Marsquakes” and dig a 4.9 meter-deep hole to learn about the planet’s interior.

NASA’s InSight Mars Lander in fully landed configuration in the clean room at Lockheed Martin Space in Littleton, Colorado. Credits: Lockheed Martin.

The $850 million InSight Mars lander mission — whose name is short for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport” — launched on May 5  atop an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California

As we continue to speculate and excite our imaginations on the possibilities from the data gleaned from the probe, if you as curious as we are, you can follow the mission’s official Twitter handle for updates.


Opeyemi Olugbemiro

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