Tuesday, August 21, 2012

NASA is planning to send another robot to Mars

NASA recently dropped off its latest and greatest rover on the planet Mars. The machine, called Curiosity, harbours a fully fledged laboratory and a bunch of interesting equipment in order to investigate the Martian surface. Recently, Curiosity beamed a couple of high-resolution pictures back to earth, giving us a clear view of the Red Planet. The whole adventure stirred up a lot of media coverage, and in the wake of its success, NASA announced to send another explorer to Mars in 2016. According to the space organisation, this particular robot will do geological research to discover what lies beneath the surface.

InSight
The new Mars explorer will be named InSight, and will be used to get insight into the inside (get it?) of Mars. It will get machinery to drill into the Martian surface to find out what lies beneath. In addition, InSight will get a seismometer to detect earthquakes, which on Mars would likely be called marsquakes. There will also be cameras and a robot arm on board. An artist rendering of the machine can be found below.
Mission
InSight is the successor of Curiosity, and had to compete with two other projects in order to get the required funding from NASA. The team behind the new Mars robot beat a project that aimed to investigate and land on the Saturn moon Titan, as well as a project set up to investigate a comet. InSight proved it could build upon existing technology that showed there is water on Mars, thereby highlighting that life on the Red Planet is theoretically possible. The team of scientists also showed they could keep the costs under control, limiting it to an already hefty 425 million dollars.

Outlook
NASA aims to launch InSight in September 2016, after which it is supposed to roam the Martian surface for about two years. It is likely the space organisation will provide additional information once the launch data draws near. Even though it will take another two years before it takes off, it seems NASA has picked the right time for its announcement. Curiosity's endeavours on Mars have generated so much interest that InSight will likely benefit from that.

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