NASA’s InSight project hopes to unlock the mysteries of the formation and evolution of rocky planets, including Earth.
Photo: Sunrise on Mars Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (cropped. See full image below)
InSight, the first mission to explore Mars’ deep interior, landed on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018, in the Elysium Planitia region of Mars. It will investigate processes that shaped the rocky planets of the inner solar system more than four billion years ago.
InSight is more than a Mars mission. Its team members hope to unlock the mysteries of the formation and evolution of rocky planets, including Earth.
InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander designed to give the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It is the first outer space robotic explorer to study in-depth the “inner space” of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.
Studying Mars’ interior structure answers key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system – Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars – more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also measures tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today.
The lander uses cutting edge instruments, to delve deep beneath the surface and seek the fingerprints of the processes that formed the terrestrial planets. It does so by measuring the planet’s “vital signs”: its “pulse” (seismology), “temperature” (heat flow), and “reflexes” (precision tracking).
This mission is part of NASA’s Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science.
First CubeSats to Deep Space
The rocket that launched InSight also launched a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These briefcase-sized CubeSats flew on their own path to Mars behind InSight.
Their goal was to test new miniaturized deep space communication equipment. Upon their arrival at Mars, the twin MarCOs successfully relayed back InSight data as it entered the Martian atmosphere and landed. This was the first test of miniaturized CubeSat technology at another planet, which researchers hope can offer new capabilities to future missions.
InSight Science Goals
The InSight mission seeks to uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by investigating the interior structure and composition of Mars. The mission will also determine the rate of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.
How Do Spacecraft Deal with Dust Storms on Mars?
NASA Mars Report February 14, 2022
A large dust storm on Mars, nearly twice the size of the United States, covered the southern hemisphere of the Red Planet in early January 2022, leading to some of NASA’s explorers on the surface hitting pause on their normal activities.
NASA’s Insight lander put itself in a “safe mode” to conserve battery power after dust prevented sunlight from reaching the solar panels. NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter also had to postpone flights until conditions improved.
A fleet of NASA orbiters monitor Martian dust storms like this one and serve as lifelines to Earth by relaying data from the rovers and lander on the ground back to the team.
This includes the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, MAVEN, and Odyssey. Odyssey, while facing its technical issue, was able to recover quickly enough to come to InSight’s aid during the dust storm.
For more information on NASA’s Mars missions, visit
mars.nasa.gov. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ASU/MSSS