digest | Breaking Ground: NASA puts new robotic lander on Mars

Digging-up clues on how planets form.
December 11, 2018

image | above
Artist drawing of the InSight lander on Mars.

art: by NASA

— the story —

NASA has successfully touched-down the new robotic lander named InSight on the surface of the planet Mars. InSight is a stationary lander that will gather samples and perform scientific observations — while it stays in one place on the ground.

InSight was placed in a special spot on Mars — a vast + flat plateau — that will help scientists sense vibration, heat, pressure, and rotation. So InSight isn’t designed to travel around the planet — like other robotic devices called rovers that NASA has sent to Mars.

The mission also included to briefcase-size satellites called cube-sats that sent data back to Earth of the lander’s safe placement on Mars surface. These are the first micro satellites to travel to another planet.

NASA said the well functioning lander + its pair of cube-sats herald a bright future for research on Mars — eventually they hope this will lead to astronauts making permanent outposts there. Human habitats and labs on Mars will have to cope with the planet’s lack of atmosphere, arid  environment, dusty surface, plus dangerous radiation from the sun. But NASA is optimistic that each small step is building a lasting bridge: so that humans can come and go routinely from Mars — like a second home. NASA is already experimenting with lightweight shelters astronauts can erect on Mars, that connect-up as modules to form larger habitations.

Private space exploration companies are also designing transportation to realistically ferry astronauts and colonial candidates to Mars to establish new outposts there. With each mission, NASA gets closer to solving the daunting problems of: travel time to Mars, safe landing of vehicles carrying equipment and people, re-usable spacecraft suitable for passengers, long-distance communication from Mars to Earth, and using the materials found of Mars to build human life support infra-structure, and agriculture to sustain a colony.

This mission marks the 8th time NASA has succeeded in landing a space-craft on the red planet. The goal of InSight is to discover knowledge about how Mars — and other rocky planets — form.

video | no. 1

watch: NASA’s InSight robotic lander is on Mars.
from: Tech Insider

video | no. 2

watch: NASA’s InSight mission to Mars digs deep into planet’s layers.
from: Seeker

resources | illustrated guide to the mission

folio | packet for InSight mission: part A
from: NASA
format: Adobe

folio | packet for InSight mission: part B
from: NASA
format: Adobe

— notes—

abbreviation: InSight = Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, Heat Transport
abbreviation: MarCO = Mars Cube One
date: The InSight lander touched-down on planet Mars — November 26, 2018.

on the web | pages

NASA | home
NASA | Mars: page
NASA | Mars: Insight

Jet Propulsion Lab + NASA | home
Jet Propulsion Lab + NASA | missions: page
Jet Propulsion Lab + NASA | missions: InSight

Jet Propulsion Lab + NASA | the Mars Exploration Program: home
Jet Propulsion Lab + NASA | the Mars Exploration Program: missions

on the web | pages

Space X | home
Virgin Galactic | home
Mars One | home
Bigelow Aerospace | home

video series | background on Mars + its spacecraft missions

from: NASA
from: the Jet Propulsion Lab

note: each segment is 1 minute

  1. video | Mars in a Minute: How do you choose a landing site?
  2. video | Mars in a Minute: How did Mars get such enormous mountains?
  3. video | Mars in a Minute: Are there quakes on Mars?
  4. video | Mars in a Minute: What is inside Mars?
  5. video | Mars in a Minute: How long is a year on Mars?
  6. video | Mars in a Minute: Why is Curiosity looking for organics?
  7. video | Mars in a Minute: What happens when the sun blocks our signal?
  8. video | Mars in a Minute: How do rovers drive on Mars?
  9. video | Mars in a Minute: Is Mars red hot?
  10. video | Mars in a Minute: How hard is it to land Curiosity on Mars?
  11. video | Mars in a Minute: How do you land on Mars?
  12. video | Mars in a Minute: How do you get to Mars?
  13. video | Mars in a Minute: Is Mars really read?

legend | infographic

InSight lander will study the deep interior of Mars.

The InSight lander, now sitting on the surface of Mars, is equipped with a seismometer to monitor vibrations as they travel throughout the inside of planet Mars.

As the waves migrate through the planet’s interior: they move through different types of rocks, minerals, metals, water, ice — both liquids + solids — they will bounce back or bounce off at varying angles.

Each specific material has its own effect on the waves — like a signature. So each type of material will cause the waves to move in different directions. Since the path the waves follow is specific to the type of material they pass through, detection equipment on the lander can paint a picture of what’s inside the planet, event the core. Like a virtual finger print of what the waves touched.  The path the waves take can be detected and recorded from the surface — analyzed together, the data can be used to paint a map of Mars interior.

So with this technique, scientists can “look inside Mars” to see what it’s made of — and where pockets of rocks, minerals, liquids, gas, and ice exist. That will also give clues to researchers about how Mars formed.

Looking inside the planet Mars.

  • no. 1 — these ripples show an earthquake happening on Mars: aka marsquake
  • no. 2 — these wavy lines show surface vibrations caused by the marsquake, traveling through Mars upper crust
  • no. 3 — some of  the seismic waves move directly through the mantle of Mars to the planet’s surface
  • no. 4 — some seismic waves arrive at the planet’s surface after traveling through its core
  • no. 5 — the core: deep at the center of Mars
  • no. 6 — some seismic waves reflect off the core, bouncing back to the surface at a variety of angles

image | below
A detailed photo of planet Mars.

photo | NASA

BACKGROUND READER — to better understand the Mars mission

by definition | what are seismic waves

The geological + planetary sciences term called seismic waves: are episodes of traveling motion caused by large movements inside a planet — or kicked-off by concussive events on its surface. Some examples: seismic waves could be started by a volcano going off, underground explosion, or meteor strike. Once the motion gets going, it ripples out in waves through the planet’s inside layers and along its top crust. They feel like a vibration or a strong rhythmic push.

Researchers have electronic sensors that can pick-up the motion of seismic waves and print-out the pattern they caused when they shook the ground. Those patterns tell scientists a lot about the type of natural material the seismic waves passed through — eg: solid ground, liquid rock, metals, water, ice, gas. For planetary research, engineers can intentionally create impacts to the ground on Mars or Earth — that generate seismic waves that are detected by equipment. Then they can see what type of ground is beneath the surface of the planet. Especially on Mars, where researchers want to know if the deep, center core of the planet is solid or liquid — and what it’s made of.

Many things can set-off a big motion that makes seismic waves:

— the fluid movement of: hot melted rock called magma
— the ground-shaking movement of: tremors from earthquakes + marsquakes
— gas escaping
— volcano erupting
— avalanche cascading
— meteor colliding

by definition | what are tectonic plates

In geology, the Earth’s outer surface layer is called the lithosphere — it contains the crust and solid, rigid rock. Below the lithosphere is the asthenosphere that flows more like liquid. The Earth’s lithosphere is broken up into tectonic plates — those are massive, irregular slabs of solid rock about 70 miles thick. The Earth consists of 7 major tectonic plates — underneath the continents as well as the oceans — and many smaller ones. These plates float — they “ride” — on the asthenosphere.

Tectonic plates sometimes collide. The world’s great mountain ranges were formed when plates collided and the rock had nowhere to go but up. Tectonic plates are moving slowly, rubbing against each other or in opposite directions — that’s what causes most of the earth’s seismic and volcanic activity. If you study where the tectonic plates are located, you’ll notice the majority of mountain ranges, volcanoes, and earthquakes happen along the edges of these plates — while the centers of the plates remain more stable, in geologic terms.

by definition | what are the geological layers of a planet

The outer crust, middle mantle, and inner core make-up the geological layers of a rocky planet or moon.

The crust is the outer, solid shell of a rocky planet or moon. The crust is the surface — where the top soil is on planets with life. All organic life lives in -or- on top of this rich layer of soil — but its thin by comparison to the other, deeper geological layers. The crust is also at the bottom of the oceans on planets with water. The mantle is directly under the crust — and its the thickest part of a planet or moon. The mantle is made of rock or ice. Below the mantle, and at the center of the sphere, is the core. The core can be made-up of both solids and liquids.

FOLIO LIST — all about the InSight lander on Mars

with materials from: NASA
with materials from: the Jet Propulsion Lab

Since the year 1965 NASA has successfully managed a track record of close encounters with the planet Mars: orbiting, landing, roving. What can the InSight mission do that hasn’t been done before?

The vital signs.

— until now: NASA robotic landers focused on exploring Mars surface for signs of organic life
— until now: NASA has touched down near volcanoes, valleys, and canyons
— InSight lander : is the first mission to study the deep interior of Mars
— InSight lander: made a journey of 301 million miles away from Earth to touch-down on Mars
— InSight lander: will take “vital signs” of Mars — pulse (seismology), temperature (heat flow), reflexes (radio science)
— the seismometer: measures vibrations from Mars underground
— the vibrations: help show what Mars is made-up of — its liquids + solids: rocks, minerals, metals, water, gas
— the vibrations: map Mars underground — crust (the surface), mantle (the middle), core (the center)
— the heat probe: takes Mars temperature to show how much heat is flowing out of its deep interior
— the radio science instrument: measures the wobble of Mars north pole as the planet orbits
— the radio science instrument: tracks the wobble, giving researchers clues about size + composition of Mars core
— InSight will teach us: about rocky planets like Earth
— InSight will help us: learn how to detect more rocky planets that can host life
— InSight will study: the deep interior of Mars, so we can learn how rocky planets form
— both Earth + Mars: were molded from the same stuff, so why are they so different?
— InSight mission: will discover clues to help answer that question

Detecting marsquakes.

— InSight lander: will try to detect earthquakes on Mars: aka marsquakes
— InSight lander: will study Mars motion underground
— before: NASA tried to do this with the Viking missions
— before: both Viking landers had their seismometers on top of the craft, where they produced noisy data
— InSight lander: its seismometer is put directly on Mars surface, for cleaner data
— earthquakes on Earth: are caused by tectonic plates moving around
— marsquakes on Mars: could be caused by volcanic activity and cracks forming in the planet’s crust
— meteor impacts can create seismic waves: that InSight lander’s equipment will detect
— marsquakes create seismic waves: that InSight lander’s equipment will detect
— each set of seismic waves: can help show the inside structure of Mars
— scientists will study: how seismic waves pass through Mars layers (crust, mantle, core)
— using data from the seismic waves: scientists can calculate the depth of Mars layers + what they’re made of
— using data from the seismic waves: paints a type of picture of Mars interior
— scientists expect: 12-to-100 marsquakes over 2 years
— scientists expect: marsquakes probably no bigger than 6.0 on the Richter scale

First inter-planetary cube-sat satellites.

— the InSight lander: was launched to space on top of a powerful Atlas V 401 rocket
— the InSight lander: was launched on a rocket that also packed 2 small satellites as cargo
— because: they’re small sized + cube-shaped, these satellites are called cube-sats
— because: the cube-sats operate in-synch for this mission, NASA named the pair Mars Cube One
— cube-sats are modern: they’re also called micro satellites, approx. the size of a briefcase
— cube-sats are modern: they’re modular + can fit together like puzzle pieces
— cube-sats are practical: because they’re easy to pack onto a rocket’s payload
— cube-sats are practical: because of they’re modular design
— cube-sats are practical: many can be left in space, more can sent-up to connect as a grid
— the Mars cube-sats: fly on their own path to Mars behind InSight
— the Mars cube-sats: flew by Mars — 2,500 miles above the planet’s surface
— the Mars cube-sats: measure while stowed — 36.6 cm (by) 24.3 cm (by) 4.6 cm (by) 11.8 cm.
— the Mars cube-sats: passed Mars and are now floating in orbit around the sun
— the Mars cube-sats: relay InSight data back to Earth
— the Mars cube-sats: sent messages to Earth when InSight entered Mars atmosphere + landed
— the Mars cube-sats: near-real-time communication between Earth + Mars
— the InSight lander: is not dependent on its cube-sat tag-alongs
— the InSight mission: this is the first test of miniature satellites on another planet

InSight could show how Mars volcanoes were formed.

— volcanoes: Mars has some large volcanic features
— volcanoes: for example, Tharsis is a Mars plateau with some of the biggest volcanoes in our solar system
— volcanoes: heat escaping from deep inside Mars forms these types of features
— the InSight lander: includes a self-hammering heat probe
— the heat probe: will burrow down to 16 feet into Mars soil
— the heat probe: will measure the heat flow from Mars interior, for the first time
— results: combining the rate of heat flow with other InSight data shows how energy inside Mars creates surface changes

Mars is a time machine.

— clues: studying Mars show us a view of the ancient past
— clues: planets Earth and Venus have tectonic systems that destroyed most of the evidence of their early history
— intact: but much of Mars has remained un-touched
— intact: Mars is 1/3 the size of Earth and Venus, so it has less geological movement changing its structure
— Mars holds secrets: our solar system’s early history is locked deep inside

Breaking ground like never before.

— the biggest: InSight’s on-board drill is the biggest that NASA has ever sent to space
— the deepest: it will dig deeper into Mars than ever before
— the first: the cube-sats on InSight’s mission are the first micro satellites deployed on another planet
— the investigation: InSight lander is designed to study the interior structure of Mars
— the cost: InSight project cost approx. $830 million

Where NASA landed InSight on Mars and why.

— location: NASA put down the InSight lander in a broad plain on Mars called Elysium Planitia
— location: Elysium Planitia is called the biggest parking lot on Mars
— location: because the plain straddles the equator of Mars it gets lots of sun
— solar power: the InSight lander has solar panels that soak up sunlight
— solar power: the solar panels convert sunlight into electricity to power equipment
— solar power: the InSight lander instruments use these solar panels to function
— the drill: the plain is flat so it’s a perfect place for InSight lander to bore a deep hole
— the drill: is motorized + hammers itself into the ground
— the drill: over 40 days it will drill 16 feet into Mars
— the drill: occasionally sends out bursts of heat into the near-by soil
— the equipment: calculates how quickly that heat warms-up the ground around the drill
— the equipment: with that data, the scientific tools can determine the soil’s make-up
— the equipment: different types of soil heats-up a varying degrees, so the test shows the soil’s chemistry
— vibrations: when the drill hammers, it sends out vibrations into the ground
— vibrations: layers of ground respond in specific ways to vibrations
— vibrations: by tracking what happens to the vibrations, scientists can see what layers exists inside Mars
— vibrations: from volcanic eruptions, lava streams, marsquakes, meteor strikes can also be detected
— wobble: the InSight lander’s on-board equipment can measure how much Mars wobbles on its axis
— wobble: the way Mars wobbles shows if the planet’s core is liquefied or solid
— results: looking deep inside Mar’s geology + movements can teach us how rocky planets form

on the web | learning

NASA | micro satellites: home
NASA | cube-sats: video
NASA | cube-sats: video

on the web | reading

Cosmos | Cube-Sats
deck: Exploring other planets on a budget.

— notes —

* NASA = the National Aeronautics + Space Admin. of the United States
* JPL = the Jet Propulsion Lab
* lab = laboratory

[ story file ]

story title: digest | Breaking Ground: NASA puts new robotic lander on Mars
deck: Digging-up clues on how planets form.
year: 2018
posted: by managing editor
section: digest

[ end of file ]