In 2016, NASA's New InSight Lander Will Dig Deep Beneath The Surface Of The Red Planet
Even though we've only been sending probes to Mars for a few decades, we've already learned more about the planet than any of us ever knew. We've found out so much, and yet...that information has only served to underscore how much we don't know. The fact is, you can only get so far by probing the surface of a world, particularly one so evidently barren as the Red Planet.
If we want to truly learn what Mars has to offer, we need to go deeper.
That's what NASA intends to do with the InSight - a rather obtuse acronym which stands for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (just don't question it). Due to launch in Spring 2016, the lander's going to do something that none of the probes sent to Mars has done yet - it's going to peer underground. Unfortunately, in order to allow for this, NASA has had to sacrifice the probe's mobility. As such, InSight's got more in common with the Phoenix lander than the Curiosity probe.
Once it's landed near the Martian equator - chosen because the climate there is relatively mild compared to the rest of the plane, the solar-powered device is going to settle in for the long haul: two years, to be exact.
While it's there, its fully-articulated arm will drill deep into the planet's crust in order to search for...what, exactly?
Sorry to disappoint you, but it's not life. InSight's mostly interested in ground motion and heatflow. The probe is equipped with a powerful array of sensors that'll allow it to detect both heat from the planet's interior along with motion transmitted by "marsquakes" and meteor impacts. By studying this data, NASA scientists hope to gather more data on how planets are formed - and what they look like during their infancy. Ultimately, they also hope to determine whether or not Mars still has a molten core.
Currently, NASA is looking for manufacturing and equipment partners to build the probe and get it where it needs to go. Already, it's lined up Lockheed Martin to build the majority of the launcher; it's unclear who they might hire on in addition. Either way, time is of the essence here - if they miss their targeted launch by even a few days, it the whole mission might be bust, and the launcher might not make it to Mars.
We've been staring at the surface of the Red Planet for centuries, intrigued and enthralled by its mysteries. Only in the past few decades have we begun to unlock its mysteries, sending probe after probe to pore the surface. What we've learned from these probes, though; it only underscores how much we've yet to learn/ We've got a long way to go before we truly understand Mars or its past - but hopefully InSight brings us one step closer.
Who knows? Maybe it'll discover something more than a few quakes. There might well be life lurking beneath the surface, right?