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NASA Insight Mars Marshal will look at (and break through) the depths of the Red Planet

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The latest NASA mission on Mars, Insight, is scheduled to begin Saturday morning in pursuit of a number of historical firsts in space travel and planetology. The lander's instruments will probe the surface of the planet and monitor its seismic activity with unprecedented accuracy, while a pair of tiny cubesats firing on the rifle will test the viability of tiny spaceships for interplanetary voyages.

Saturday at 4:05 Pacific is the first launch opportunity, but weather permitting, they'll try again soon after – the chances of the clouds reaching June 8, when the launch window closes, are thin to none.

Insight is not just a pretty name that they chose; it is about the interior exploration using the seismic surveys, the geodesy and the transport of heat, at least after having massed a little the acronym. Its arsenal of instruments will teach us the Martian interior, giving us insight (see what they did there?) Of the past and present of Mars and other rocky planets of the solar system, including the Earth.

Bruce Banerdt, senior scientist for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory mission, has campaigned for this mission for more than two decades, after practically a lifetime of work there.

"It's the only work I've ever had in my life, apart from working in the tire shop during the summer," he said in a recent podcast from NASA. He has worked on many other missions, of course, but his dedication to it has clearly paid off. It was originally scheduled for launch in 2016, but some issues with an instrument meant that they had to wait until the next launch window – now.

Insight is a lander in the Phoenix style, the size of a small car, and turned to Mars faster than a bullet that accelerates. The launch is a first in itself: NASA has never launched an interplanetary mission from the west coast, but the conditions are aligned in this case making the Vandenberg Air Force Base California the best option. It does not even require gravity assistance to get where it's going.

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"Instead of having to go to Florida and use the rotation of the Earth to help us throw ourselves into orbit … we can fight a path," Banerdt said in the same podcast. "Plus, we're going to launch in a way that will be visible to maybe 10 million people in Southern California because this rocket will go straight to Los Angeles, just San Diego. ready to get up at four in the morning, they should see a pretty cool light show that day. "

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Atlas V will take him to orbit and the Centaur will give him his push towards Mars, after which he will sail for about six months, arriving late in the Martian afternoon of November 26 ( Earth's calendar).

His landing will be as exciting (and terrifying) as that of Phoenix and many others. When the Martian atmosphere will be felt, Insight will exceed 13,000 km / h. It will slow down first by using the atmosphere itself, losing 90% of its velocity by rubbing against a new, reinforced heat shield. A parachute still takes off 90%, but it will still exceed 100 km / h, which would make the landing uncomfortable. So, a few thousand feet higher, it will pass to landing jets that will let it land at an altitude of 5.4 miles per hour (MPH) at the point and orientation desired.

Once the dust has settled down (literally) and the undercarriage has confirmed that everything is in working order, it deploys its circular solar array fan and gets to work.

Self-hammering robot arms and robomoles

The mission of Insight is to enter the geology of Mars with more detail and depth than ever before. To this end, it is the packaging equipment for three major experiments.

SEIS is a collection of six seismic sensors (making the name a bidi, bidirectional word pun) that will sit on the floor under what looks like a tiny Kingdome and watch for the slightest movement of the ground below. Tiny high frequency vibrations or longer period oscillations should all be detected.

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"Seismology is the method we used to get just about everything we know, all the basic information about the Earth's interior, and we also used it for the first time. Apollo era to understand and measure the properties of the interior of the moon, "said Banerdt. "And so, we want to apply the same techniques, but use the waves generated by the Mars tremors, by the impacts of meteorites to probe deep inside Mars to its core."

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The heat flux and physical properties probe is interesting. He will continually monitor the temperature of the planet below the surface for the duration of the mission – but to do this, of course, he must make his way. For this, it is installed with what the team calls a "self-hammering mechanical mole". Quite explicit, is not it?

The "mole" is a bit like a nail 16 inches long, one-inch thick, which will use a spring-loaded tungsten block to propel itself into the rock. It is estimated that it will take between 5,000 and 20,000 impacts to be deep enough to escape the daily and seasonal temperature changes to the surface.


Finally, there is the Rotation and Structure Structure experiment, which does not need a giant nail, a tiny Kingdome, or anything of that kind . The experiment involves tracking the position of Insight with extreme accuracy as Mars rotates, using its radio connection with the Earth. It can be located about four inches, which when you think about it is amazing enough to start. The way this position varies may indicate an oscillation in the rotation of the planet and consequently lighten its internal composition. Combined with similar experimental data in the 70s and 90s, it should allow planetary scientists to determine how the nucleus is melted.

"In some ways, InSight is like a time machine that will bring back information about the early stages of the formation of Mars 4.5 billion years ago," Banerdt said in a previous release. "This will help us learn how rock bodies are formed, including the Earth, its moon and even the planets in other solar systems."

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In another space first, Insight has a robotic arm that will not only look at rocks, but will grab objects from its own inventory and deploy them into its workspace. Her little fingers grab grips over each deployable instrument and catch her like a human. Well, maybe a little differently, but the principle is the same. At nearly 8 feet long, he has a little more reach than the average astronaut.

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Cubes firing shotgun

One of the cubesats of MarCO.

Insight is certainly the main payload, but it's not the only one. Launching on the same rocket are two cubesats, collectively known as Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These guys the size of a briefcase will separate from the rocket at the same time as Insight, but will take slightly different trajectories. They do not have the control to adjust their movement and go into orbit, so they'll just zoom in on Mars just when Insight lands.

Cubesats starts all the time, does not it? Of course – in Earth orbit. This will be the first attempt to send Cubesats to another planet. If successful, there is no limit to what can be accomplished – assuming you do not need to pack something bigger than a box to bread.

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Space ships carry no super-important experience; there are two in the event that one fails, and both are only equipped with UHF antennas to send and receive data, and a few low resolution visible light cameras. The experience here is really the cubesats themselves and this throwing technique. If they arrive on Mars, they might be able to help send the Insight signal back home, and if they continue to operate beyond that, it's just a Cherry on the cake.

You can follow the launch of Insight here; there is also the traditional anthropomorphized Twitter account. We will post a link to the live feed as soon as it is released.