There’s something about going to space that just awakens a sense of possibility. It’s been a while since we’ve been able to feel that regarding a NASA mission to Mars, but on Saturday morning, the InSight spacecraft launched from California for a six month journey to the red planet.
According to the New York Times, this mission is intended to study Mars’ interior. Understanding the insides of Mars is expected to display how a rocky planet forms, which may then enlighten a little more about the formation of the early solar system itself.
InSight stands for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport”. Basically, that means that it’s going to be studying movement within the Martian crust, heat within the planet, and atmospheric composition. The rumblings and quakes within Mars’ center, as well as the degree it wobbles as it orbits, could tell us a lot of information about the planet’s internal makeup. Things like the size of the core, the thickness of the crust, and the chemical makeup of the mantle are all currently unknown to us, but that’s looking to be a temporary lapse of knowledge if all goes well for InSight.
Even more importantly, this intense study might also uncover Mars’ long-debated water sources. If it does, that could inspire another mission to look for sources of life. All in all, this is some pretty revolutionary stuff.
The InSight is the first Mars expedition launched from California instead of Florida’s Cape Canaveral air base. The east coast takes advantage of Earth’s rotation so that rockets launched on that side of the country get a little extra boost. But now, we’ve reached a point of technical innovation that means we don’t need that boost. The InSight is attached to the Atlas 5 rocket, which is so powerful that it can get that velocity itself. That means NASA could take advantage of the Californian Vandenberg site, since that range is generally less congested and was available for all of the InSights 5-week launch window.
If all goes well, InSight should land on Mars sometime in November.