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New NASA Mission to Take First Look Deep Inside Mars

NASA Mission to Peer Into Mars’ Past

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NASA's Tiny Satellite Maps Global Ice Couds
NASA's Tiny Satellite Maps Global Ice Couds. Pixabay
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A powerful Atlas 5 rocket was poised for liftoff early Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying to Mars the first robotic NASA lander designed entirely for exploring the deep interior of the red planet.

The Mars InSight probe was scheduled to blast off from the central California coast at 4:05 a.m. PDT (1105 GMT), creating a luminous predawn spectacle of the first U.S. interplanetary spacecraft to be launched over the Pacific.

The lander will be carried aloft for NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) atop a two-stage, 19-story Atlas 5 rocket from the fleet of United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.

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The payload will be released about 90 minutes after launch on a 301-million-mile (484 million km) flight to Mars. It is scheduled to reach its destination in six months, landing on a broad, smooth plain close to the planet’s equator called the Elysium Planitia.

InSight’s mission

That will put InSight roughly 373 miles (600 km) from the 2012 landing site of the car-sized Mars rover Curiosity. The new 800-pound (360-kg) spacecraft marks the 21st U.S.-launched Martian exploration, dating to the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s. Nearly two dozen other Mars missions have been launched by other nations.

An image of Mars.
Mars. Pixabay

Once settled, the solar-powered InSight will spend two years, about one Martian year, plumbing the depths of the planet’s interior for clues to how Mars took form and, by extension, the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets.

Measuring marsquakes

InSight’s primary instrument is a French-built seismometer, designed to detect the slightest vibrations from “marsquakes” around the planet. The device, to be placed on the surface by the lander’s robot arm, is so sensitive it can measure a seismic wave just one-half the radius of a hydrogen atom.

Scientists expect to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes over the course of the mission, producing data to help them deduce the depth, density and composition of the planet’s core, the rocky mantle surrounding it and the outermost layer, the crust.

The Viking probes of the mid-1970s were equipped with seismometers, too, but they were bolted to the top of the landers, a design that proved largely ineffective.

Representational image.
Representational image. Pixabay

Apollo missions to the moon brought seismometers to the lunar surface as well, detecting thousands of moonquakes and meteorite impacts. But InSight is expected to yield the first meaningful data on planetary seismic tremors beyond Earth.

Insight also will be fitted with a German-made drill to burrow as much as 16 feet (5 meters) underground, pulling behind it a rope-like thermal probe to measure heat flowing from inside the planet.

Meanwhile, a special transmitter on the lander will send radio signals back to Earth, tracking Mars’ subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet’s core and possibly whether it remains molten.

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Hitching a ride aboard the same rocket that launches InSight will be a pair of miniature satellites called CubeSats, which will fly to Mars on their own paths behind the lander in a first deep-space test of that technology. (VOA)

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US Senators Want NASA To Extend The ISS Life Until At Least 2028

The aim was to save mony so that more resources could invested into deep space exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars.

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NASA ISS
Representational Image, VOA

NASA should extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2028, two US Senators said in a hearing to examine the future of the orbiting laboratory.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas who is the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Space, Science, and Competitiveness convened the hearing on Wednesday, which was the first in a series of two hearings to examine the role of the space station.

In its 2019 budget request, the Donald Trump administration proposed ending direct government funding for the ISS by 2025, Florida Today, part of the USA Today network, reported on Wednesday.

“We’ve got this platform up there (worth) north of $100 billion, and it’s there,” Senator Bill Nelson of Florida, ranking member on the Subcommittee on Space, Science and Competitiveness, was quoted as saying.

“Abandoning this incredible orbiting laboratory where they are doing research, when we are on the cusp of a new era of space exploration, would be irresponsible at best and probably disastrous,” Nelson added.

NASA should extend the life of the International Space Station (ISS) until at least 2028, two US Senators said in a hearing to examine the future of the orbiting laboratory.
ISS is a permanent base for astronauts stationed in the outer sky. Wikimedia Commons

The NASA Transition Authorization Act of 2017 directed NASA to develop a plan to transition ISS from the current regime that relies heavily on NASA sponsorship to a regime where NASA could be one of many customers of a low-Earth orbit (LEO) non-governmental human space flight enterprise.

The aim was to save mony so that more resources could invested into deep space exploration of the Moon and eventually Mars.

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The space agency’s internal watchdog on Wednesday, however, said that private companies are unlikely to take on the more than $1 billion annual cost to run the International Space Station by 2025 as NASA hopes.

The report from NASA Inspector General provided a closing argument against the Trump administration’s proposal to privatise or abandon the orbiting laboratory so soon, the US senators said, according to the Florida Today report.

“The defence rests,” quipped Senator Cruz of Texas. (IANS)