Friday 25 May 2018

Mission to Mars will dig deep into geological mysteries of red planet

A robotic geologist armed with a hammer and quake monitor rocketed toward Mars yesterday, aiming to land on the red planet and explore its mysterious interior. Stock picture
A robotic geologist armed with a hammer and quake monitor rocketed toward Mars yesterday, aiming to land on the red planet and explore its mysterious interior. Stock picture

Marcia Dunn

A robotic geologist armed with a hammer and quake monitor rocketed toward Mars yesterday, aiming to land on the red planet and explore its mysterious interior.

In a twist, NASA launched the Mars InSight lander from California rather than Florida's Cape Canaveral. It was the first interplanetary mission ever to depart from the west coast, drawing pre-dawn crowds to Vandenberg Air Force Base, north of Los Angeles.

The spacecraft will take six months to get to Mars and start its unprecedented geologic excavations, travelling 485m km to get there.

InSight will dig deeper into Mars than ever before - nearly five metres - to take the planet's temperature. It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a high-tech seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.

Also aboard the Atlas V rocket were a pair of mini satellites, or CubeSats, meant to trail Mars InSight all the way to Mars in a first-of-its-kind technology demonstration.The €1bn mission involves scientists from the US and Europe.

"I can't describe to you in words how very excited I am to go off to Mars," said project manager Tom Hoffman from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "It's going to be awesome."

NASA has not put a spacecraft down on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The US is the only country successfully to land and operate a spacecraft at Mars. Only about 40pc of all missions to Mars from all countries - orbiters and landers alike - have proven successful over the decades.

If all goes well, the three-legged InSight will descend by parachute and engine firings on to a flat equatorial region of Mars - believed to be free of potentially dangerous rocks - on November 26. Once down, it will stay put, using a mechanical arm to place the science instruments on the surface.

©Associated Press

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