InSight, space probe that will listen to the interior of Mars


After traveling for some 300 million kilometers (186 million miles), NASA 's InSight space mission will arrive on the Martian surface on Monday and will set up a seismometer and a heat sensor to decipher the "deep interior" of the Red Planet.

The probe, which was fired into space on May 5 from Vandenberg Air Base in California, will use a mechanical excavator to dig down up to five meters (16 feet) into the Martian soil and measure the temperature there, along with measuring any internal movements using the seismograph.

"It's the first mission that's going to study the deep interior of Mars," Spain's Fernando Abilleira, InSight's assistant director for design and navigation and part of the multidisciplinary and international mission team, told EFE.

"Studying the propagation of waves under the Martian surface, using the seismometer, we're going to have more information about how the planet has evolved" over the past three billion years, he said.

Abilleira, who has been working on NASA space projects for 17 years, is one of the engineers and scientists who will study the "vital signs" of the Red Planet starting on Monday at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The mission is designed to take precision measurements of Mars for the next two years using the SEIS seismometer experiment to detect "any movement in the Martian surface," Abilleira said, including meteorite impacts and small marsquakes.

By studying the waves that travel through the Martian interior, scientists will get a better picture of the composition of the planet's core, mantle and crust.

Landing on Mars is very difficult, Abilleira said, noting that the spacecraft must enter the thin Martian atmosphere at some 20,000 kph and in seven minutes reduce its speed to five kph.

The Insight mission (which stands for "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport") will help add to our knowledge of how the Solar System began some 4.6 billion years ago and how life developed in it.

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