- NASA’s Insight
landed safely. The robot will soon start beaming back
quakes and wobbles on Mars.
- Mars doesn’t have tectonic plates like Earth, but learning
more about how volatile the planet may be could help scientists
better understand how Earth developed to sustain life.
- A former NASA chief says scientists are “drooling” for new
data about the interior of Mars.
InSight is on the ground. NASA just dropped an SUV-sized quake-hunting
laboratory on Mars — the US space agency’s eighth successful
landing on the red planet.
The new solar-powered lander doesn’t move. It doesn’t record
videos. And of InSight’s two tiny cameras, one points straight
down at the red dust.
But that doesn’t mean it’s a boring mission.
“All of our past missions have really been surface missions that
have characterized the surface, the geology, the astrobiology of
the surface,” NASA’s former chief technologist Robert Braun told
Business Insider, days before the lander touched down. “InSight’s
a very different mission in the sense that it is peering into the
past by studying, really, the interior of Mars.”
Now a consultant for National Geographic’s Mars series, Braun
helped develop all of NASA’s previous Mars missions, including
Curiosity — the selfie-snapping rover
that’s roaming the Martian surface today. He said this new lander
could help scientists find clues about what makes life on rocky
“There’s a whole group of scientists — a very large group of
scientists — that are basically drooling to get more information
about the interior of Mars,” he said.
One big question those researchers want to answer: Is Mars still
a dynamic place with quaking rumblings like our own earthquakes?
Four billion years ago, Earth wasn’t so different from Mars or
the other crusty globes of the inner solar system: Mercury and
Venus. Then something happened that made Earth a nice place to
“Our measurements will help us turn back the clock and understand
what produced a verdant Earth but a desolate Mars,” Bruce
Banerdt, InSight’s principal investigator, said in a recent NASA blog post.
Braun described the mission in similar terms.
“We can’t investigate the Earth’s early history anymore
because of all the changes of the Earth,” he said. “You know,
water, wind, tectonic plates, have all eroded the very early
history of the Earth. But at Mars, we can still learn about that
period in our solar system’s formation and in our planet’s
The movement of tectonic plates is one of the processes
scientists point to as key for the emergence of life on Earth.
The continents and oceans sit on top of these plates, and
tectonic activity can release life-sustaining materials like
water, carbon dioxide, and methane that create a breeding ground
Mars doesn’t have such plates, but that doesn’t mean the
planet is shake-free. So InSight is designed to sense and
monitor Mars’ version of quakes.
That data will be immensely valuable to Earth scientists,
and it could also one day aid in the quest to put humans on Mars.
“Understanding the interior of the planet, and what the resources
are throughout the interior of the planet, would be important if
you were going to one day have a human settlement there,” Braun
It will take InSight months to fully set itself up as a research
base. But just moments after landing, it sent back a first
glimpse of its new home:
Mission control couldn’t have been more thrilled to see the
lander plop down safely, some 140 million miles away.