‘Robot stevedore’ InSight Lander to shed light on Mars history
NASA’s Insight Lander, designed to measure seismic activity on Mars and study the planet’s internal structure, is scheduled to land on the red planet on Nov. 26. NASA will host a briefing on the landing on Wednesday.
The following Cornell University researchers are available for interviews on the topic.
Jonathan Lunine is a professor in the Physical Sciences at Cornell and director of the Cornell Center for Astrophysics and Planetary Science. Lunine worked for decades on the Saturn Cassini program, was a co-investigator on the Juno space probe orbiting Jupiter, and has testified before Congress on human exploration of Mars. He says the InSight Lander will reveal answers about Mars’ interior, and has “perhaps the coolest sequence for setting up its instruments.”
“Why Mars was warm enough for liquid water early in its history remains one of the great mysteries to come out of solar system exploration. As a small rocky planet only 10 percent the mass of the Earth, Mars would have cooled off quickly, putting a stop to the cycling of carbon through the crust that has helped to sustain our own planet’s habitability. But how quickly did it actually cool down? InSight will tell us crucial things about the current state of Mars’ interior—how much heat is flowing out today, how big is the iron core, and how much seismic activity occurs—that will make much more precise our understanding of Mars’ history. And with plenty of Mars-sized exoplanets elsewhere in the Galaxy, InSight will provide a general understanding of how small terrestrial planets evolve over time.
“Besides, InSight has perhaps the coolest sequence for setting up its instruments: delicately lifting two of its instruments over the side and gently lowering them onto the surface, like a robot stevedore unloading its cargo on an alien world.”
Don Banfield is senior research associate specializing in planetary sciences at Cornell. He is also a co-investigator and member of the science team for NASA’s InSight Mars Lander.
“I’m excited for the InSight Mission to land on Mars, not only because we think it will be a great mission with compelling science from its seismometers and heat flux probe, as well as the supporting meteorology and magnetometer sensors that may discover novel phenomena (will we ‘hear’ infra-sound?, do dust devils produce magnetic fields?), but also because we’ve been working on this project for more than eight years, and the scariest part is coming up in less than a month: our landing on Mars. We’ll be holding our breaths on Nov. 26 when the lander comes screaming in from interplanetary space, abruptly slows down on Mars’ atmosphere, and (hopefully) gently lands at our landing site where we will study the interior and environment of Mars. Wish InSight good luck as she goes through this most risky part of her mission.”
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