NASA’s InSight spacecraft is now more than halfway to Mars.
The InSight is expected to touch down on Mars on Nov. 26. It’s set to penetrate the terrain on Mars to probe the depths of its crust, mantle, and core.
“We’re actually measuring the depths of the planet, thousands of miles deep into the planet to understand the entire planet, not just the surface,” said Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator on the InSight mission.
The InSight departed Earth in May, carrying a seismometer to study ground motions on Mars. The spacecraft is set to land on Mars’s Elysium Planitia region. The InSight mission will be the first Mars mission to explore the interior of the planet.
The InSight mission was originally scheduled to launch in March 2016, but seismometer issues caused a delay, The Planetary Society reported.
InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, according to NASA. The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The team at NASA behind InSight is preparing for the day the spacecraft lands. The team also monitors and activates InSight subsystems necessary for cruise, landing, and surface operations. These include very sensitive scientific instruments, according to a news release from NASA.
The team plans to explore why Mars has so many mountains. They hope probing the planet’s temperature will give insight into what led to its volcano formations. Olympus Mons, a volcano almost three times the size of Mount Everest, sits on Mars, NASA reported. Scientists want to discovered the geological processes that led to its formation, and others on Mars like it.
Besides the moon, Mars has been the most popular location for space missions in the solar system. However, half of the attempts to explore Mars failed. Data obtained from Mars missions since 1996 revealed to space explorers that Mars is more like Earth than previously believed, according to The Planetary Society.
Scientists hope that studying Mars, they can understand more about how similar rocky planets formed. Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars all have a rocky structure. Scientists hope that understanding the interior of Mars will also help them understand other planets outside our solar system, according to NASA.
“We’re going to probe its depths, figure out how big the core is, what its made out of, how big the crust is and using that information we’re going to be able to go back and test our models of how Mars formed and how the earth formed,” said Banerdt.
Blasting through space behind InSight are two mini spacecraft called Mars Cube One to help InSight communicate data back to Earth. Scientists hope to test the viability of these miniaturized communications devices to help expand the possibilities of future deep space Mars missions. But if they don’t work, they will not affect InSight’s mission, according to NASA.
A NASA rover currently exploring Mars, the Opportunity, has an uncertain future. As InSight was on its way to Mars, Opportunity communications were cut off on June 10 due to a large dust storm, Space.com reported. Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004.
Fox contributed to this report