On Monday, NASA successfully landed its eighth spacecraft on Mars. This marks the end of the InSight lander’s long journey through space and the start of years of exploring the Red Planet.
The six-minute landing and hot descent through the Martian atmosphere does not mean that this lander is done. In the coming days, months, and years, InSight will deploy scientific instruments and relay information back to Earth.
Here are just a few things the Insight Rover will do next…
Deploy the Science!
NASA’s InSight lander contains several scientific instruments that will drill beneath the interior of Mars, listen for “Marsquakes,” and help understand how many meteorites smash into the planet. Fortunately, the first step in the process of deploying these instruments has been executed successfully. NASA announced that InSight’s solar arrays are deployed and operating, giving power to the instruments on board.
With power, the mission team back on Earth is ready to proceed through its post-landing checklist. First, the lander will check that its robotic arm and science instruments are in good condition. Then, it will remove dust covers from its two cameras and perform a survey of the red ground.
With this complete, NASA will command InSight to deploy its seismometer and then place a wind and thermal shield on top of it for protection. After this, InSight will use several probes and a “mole” that will dig 16 feet into the Red Planet to measure its internal temperature and composition.
Far from Mission Accomplished
Even though the riskiest part of InSight’s journey is complete, the mission is far from over. Before even deploying the scientific instruments, the lander must find an ideal spot for them. The InSight team at NASA has said that this alone will take around two to three months.
Once the instruments are deployed, sometime around March 2019, it will take another month or two to finish drilling. After drilling, the lander will finally begin sending data back for scientists to interpret and play with.
Even then, the InSight mission is not over. NASA and the team who designed the seismometer hope to listen in to the “Marsquakes” for at least two years. If everything goes well, the rover might be able to listen for even longer.
Scientists will use the data collected from the rover to better understand the Red Planet. As humanity turns their eyes upwards with some hope to inhabit Mars in the next 100 years, the data from InSight will be crucial in preparing NASA and others for future missions.