December 8, 2018
New App Lets You Command Your Own InSight Lander And Conduct Cool Science On Mars

It's been nearly two weeks since NASA's InSight lander has made its historic touchdown on the red planet.

During these first few days on Mars, the intrepid spacecraft has beamed back a host of impressive photographs from its landing site at Elysium Planitia, as the Inquisitr recently reported. But the major pioneering science that InSight has flown seven months and more than 300 million miles to perform won't be starting for another couple of months — maybe even more.

For now, the probe is busy flexing its robotic arm to snap as many photos of its new surroundings with the Instrument Deployment Camera (IDC). This will help the mission's team back at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, to pick the best possible spots for InSight's main scientific instruments — the SEIS seismometer, tasked with measuring seismic waves and hunting for marsquakes, and the HP3 heat flow probe, designed to take the planet's pulse and to study Mars' deep interior.

Once this preliminary phase of the mission is complete, InSight will be ready to deploy the seismometer and the thermal probe directly on the ground of the Martian lava plain that it now calls home. In the meantime, the instruments are resting on the spacecraft's deck, waiting to be put to good use.

While the lander is still getting familiarized with its new abode, space enthusiasts have the chance to experience the InSight mission from the comfort of their own home via an interactive platform launched by NASA. This new app, literally called Experience InSight, caters to ardent fans who wish to go beyond reading about the mission's progress and allows users to get involved in the action.

Essentially a 3D simulation of the mission's steps, the Experience InSight app enables the public to command their own InSight lander — albeit only virtually — and to deploy each of the probe's instruments one by one to get their science on.

"No engineering degree required!" the InSight team tweeted earlier this week.

To get in on all the fun, visit the Experience InSight web page and start clicking away to deploy the spacecraft's solar panels and watch them unfurl right before your very eyes.

The app also allows you to deploy the spacecraft's robotic arm, which will come in handy when it's time "to pick up science instruments from the lander's deck, gently setting them on the Martian surface," explains NASA. As the space agency points out, these are "the only instruments ever to be robotically placed on the surface of another planet."

Annotated illustration of the InSight lander on Mars, showing all of the spacecraft's scientific instruments.
Annotated illustration of the InSight lander on Mars, showing all of the spacecraft's scientific instruments.

The platform is very easy to navigate and contains helpful instruction boxes that take you through each step of the mission, explaining the purpose of all of InSight's science instruments.

In addition, a side box offers a view of InSight's two cameras, which can be alternated between the IDC mounted on the robotic arm and the Instrument Context Camera (ICC), located under the lander's deck. This will ensure that you get a prime viewing of what goes on during instrument deployment, enabling you to watch the SEIS and the HP3 heat probe at work from two different angles.

Have fun exploring Mars during your own InSight experience!