How is the spacecraft that landed successfully and will investigate the bowels of Mars


Mars continues to be one of the main targets of space exploration internationally and almost an obsession for NASA, the only space agency that has managed to put vehicles on the red planet.

The first ship designed to study the interior of Mars landed today to try to unravel the riddles of the history of the red planet. InSight, which took off from Earth on May 5, landed on the red planet at 4:47 p.m. (Argentine time).

In just five minutes, it reduced its speed from 17,300 kilometers per hour to only 8 km / h, to land safely on the Martian surface using retro rockets.

Engineer Miguel San Martín, who worked for many years at NASA and was responsible for the descent of the last 4 vehicles that were successfully rolled by the neighboring planet, explained Infobae the importance of the new space mission.

Unlike the latest missions, using rovers, the InSight mission will be similar to the legendary Viking of the '70s.

"This mission is part of NASA's Discovery program, which consists of low cost missions, but that does not mean they are not important. Insight will study the interior of Mars to better understand how the formation and evolution of the planets was rocky (Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars) For example, we will try to elucidate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid, and determine the size of the core, the crust, and the mantle. explained San Martin.

Unlike the later rovers, the InSight mission will be similar to the legendary Viking of the 1970s. NASA's Viking spacecraft launched in the late 1970s had seismographs, of which only one had worked, but it was much less because it was fixed to the top of the probe.

InSight is the first instrument to land on Mars since five and a half years ago, the Mars Science Laboratory, better known as Curiosity, which is still working there.

The Seismic Experiment for the Interior Structure (SEIS) was designed by France's National Center for Space Studies (CNES), while the Heat Heat and Physical Properties Package (HP3) is a collaboration between the German space agencies DLR and Polish CBK .

InSight will try to detect the so-called marsquakes or earthquakes, seismic waves that, like Earth, cross the different layers of the planet. These could give information about the interior of Mars and about "how alive" is its nucleus, helping to understand its formation 4,500 million years ago.

Scientists hope to record up to 100 earthquakes during the course of the mission. Most must be less than 6 on the open Richter scale. Studying how seismic waves travel through the crust, mantle, and core of the red planet could help them know more about how different layers are made and how thick they are.

"The InSight mission is a probe sent into the deep interior of Mars to better understand the initial formation processes of the Earth and all the rocky planets, we can understand the composition of the mantle, see how great the crust is and what it is made, we want to understand which occurred in the first few seconds of creation, but on Earth this evidence was largely erased by the tectonic plates and the convection of the mantle, "said Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator. at a US press conference

"We are interested in seismography, because if a planet moves, earthquakes or martemotos will give us a lot of information about if we want to. sending astronauts to Mars, the information collected by InSight will be instrumental in understanding the evolution of the planet and determining how safe it is for humans. "

San Martin also needed more details on the extraordinary mission of Mars

How will the ship descend? Why are airbags or crane not used as Curiosity?

The ship is a nearly exact copy of the Phoenix Lander, which was developed by the company Lockheed-Martin. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is responsible for the mission. The ship has the characteristics of a soft-lander, that is, that lands on three legs like the Viking missions of the 70's, which is not surprising, because the same company developed both ships.

The crane used for the Curiosity mission in 2012, called SkyCrane, is needed when you want to land a large Rover. For this type of missions the SkyCrane is very expensive. For Spirit and Opportunity missions, the airbags jumping on the ground were used until the robot stopped and positioned itself. It was JPL's attempt to make a landing system very economical and robust on dangerous surfaces.

Lockheed-Martin has developed this Lander or landing system which is also very economical but not as robust for steep surfaces. As Insight studies the interior of Mars, scientists could choose a safer, flatter place to land, a luxury we can not afford when searching for evidence of life, for example.

What did you contribute to this mission?

In this mission I was a member of the Entry, Descent, and Landing Advisory Council (EDLAG), a group of landing system specialists who reviewed and advised the Insight descent team over the years. I am a kind of critic and advisor who tries to offer my experience and knowledge to the Insight team.

How will the interior of Mars be studied?

To study the interior of Mars this mission consists of three instruments: 1) A seismograph to measure the earthquakes of Mars, the result of the impacts of meteorites, the crushing of Mars when it shrinks due to cooling and the tides caused by the gravity of its moons (Phobos and Deimos). This instrument acts as an ultrasound using sound waves that propagate through the interior of Mars to determine its structure, 2) a kind of mole that will bury up to 5 meters to measure the thermal gradient to understand the sources of heat in the environment. inside the planet, 3) A radio instrument to measure how the Mars Rotation fails and thereby determine if it has a liquid or solid nucleus.

InSight was originally scheduled for 2016, but a technical problem (the discovery of leaks in one of the instruments) forced NASA to delay the start of the project until Mars and Earth were back in the ideal position for the trip to be shorter and the lowest energy expenditure possible.

This delay was a additional expenses of $ 150 million to NASA, bringing the total cost of the mission to 800 million.

Despite this, it is hoped that with the success of this mission the agency can send a new space exploration vehicle in 2020 to look for signs of life and take samples of the terrain.


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