On the surface of Mars, the InSight lander uses its robotic arm-mounted camera to take a picture of the Red Planet. (AP)

On the surface of Mars, the InSight lander uses its robotic arm-mounted camera to take a picture of the Red Planet. (AP)

InSight got right to work taking images like this of Mars shortly after landing. (AP)

InSight got right to work taking images like this of Mars shortly after landing. (AP)

This combination of dozens of photos gives a panoramic view of Mount Sharp, part of the Martian landscape. (AP)

This combination of dozens of photos gives a panoramic view of Mount Sharp, part of the Martian landscape. (AP)

Before beginning the space mission, a technician prepares InSight for testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colorado. (AP)

Before beginning the space mission, a technician prepares InSight for testing at Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver, Colorado. (AP)

What Will InSight Do?

Posted: December 31, 2018

InSight is the first American spacecraft to land on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012. Unlike Curiosity, InSight won’t move around and explore the surface. It will stay put and perfectly still. InSight has three legs, one arm, and a unique job: exploring underground. After landing, InSight takes out the science experiments it carries. It places them on the surface of Mars. One experiment will attempt to drill 16 feet into Mars and monitor the temperature underground to see how much heat is still flowing out of Mars. InSight also carries seismometers to measure marsquakes—if they exist. Listening to quakes helps scientists understand the planet’s interior. Another experiment will measure how much Mars wobbles, which helps reveal the structure and size of the planet's metallic core.

InSight is a robot that does all its work by itself. NASA scientist Bruce Banerdt says InSight has its own “brain.” It has its own arm to move objects around. It can “listen” with its seismometer. It can “feel” with its temperature sensors. It pulls power from the Sun. The 800-pound InSight craft will take measurements for the next two Earth years—but that’s just one Mars year!                    

Mars: You Are NOT Welcome!

Scientists watched and worried as they waited for InSight to land. Wind gusts could have sent InSight into a tumble while it came down. The parachute could have gotten tangled. A dust storm could have blocked the Sun, keeping InSight from getting solar power. A leg could have buckled. The arm could have jammed.

Mars does NOT seem to like having visitors! Starting way back in 1960, people from different countries have sent spacecraft to try and fly past or orbit the planet. But of nearly 50 total missions to Mars so far, only about 40 percent of them have succeeded. Only a few of those missions have included the much more complicated task of trying to land on the surface. The United States has successfully landed on Mars eight out of nine attempts—an unusually good record. No wonder the scientists cheer when InSight lands safely!