Landing Was Just The First Step

November 30, 2018
Artist concept of InSight approaching Mars Image Credit: NASA

On November 27th, people waited with bated breath as NASA landed its eighth spacecraft, InSight, on Mars. The mission? To spend two years gathering information about the red planet. What did it take to make the tricky landing that took seven painstaking minutes? Small rockets, parachutes, shields for heat, and nimble spacecraft legs that could absorb the pressure of the landing.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech First Image taken of Mars from InSight

Three minutes after landing, the spacecraft got to work, sending its first image of the planet. But the landing was only one part that had the scientists involved with the project holding their breath. They needed to know if the batteries and the solar panels were functioning well enough to initiate the mission. The answer to this did not arrive until hours later, and the result was … yes! The panels were performing well and are now able to initiate the mission. Scientists are hoping to understand more about how Mars was created and what the marsquakes (quakes on Mars) can tell them about the planet’s changes.

Even though the main panels and battery are ready to go, did you know it will take almost three months for the spacecraft to initiate the mission after landing? First, there will be checks performed to make sure every piece of equipment is undamaged and working fine. But just as importantly, time will be spent identifying the right spot to set up the equipment on Mars’ landscape. This alone could take up to two months, and another month will be spent digging into the planet to insert thermometers and other equipment that will measure the planet’s vitals.

Whew! We’ll have to wait until March for the “science” recordings to initiate. What did the principal investigator of the project, Bruce Banerdt, say about the accomplishment? He said, “Landing was thrilling, but I’m looking forward to the drilling.”

Nice one, Mr. Banerdt!