Even though NASA’s InSight lander touched down on the surface of Mars a few weeks ago, on November 26, its mission is moving along extremely quickly, and InSight has just successfully set its first instrument down on red martian soil.
According to a press release from NASA, dazzling new photographs show InSight deploying a seismometer onto the surface of Mars, and InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman, who works at the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory located in Pasadena, has stated that this first instrument to hit Mars is surely one of the best Christmas presents that NASA could receive.
“InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars has gone better than we hoped. Getting the seismometer safely on the ground is an awesome Christmas present.”
Since the InSight lander first gently touched down on the surface of Mars at the end of November, the InSight team have been overseeing the delicate operation of landing two very important instruments onto the red planet. The first of these instruments is the seismometer (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure), which has already been placed on Mars, and the second is the heat probe (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe).
In order to make certain that these instruments were placed in just the right manner on Mars, scientists first had to be completely certain that the robotic arm used to pick up instruments and place them on the surface of the planet was working as it should. Engineers then also made sure that the commands for the InSight lander were also functioning properly before they scoped out the terrain of Mars to find precisely the right spot to unload the instruments.
???? Hello from #Mars! The first pics of me taken from space show exactly where I settled down. See if you can spot my solar panels. Also, thank you to my parachute, back shell and heat shield, now at rest on Mars, having safely delivered me to my new home. https://t.co/FkLu6TQgHF pic.twitter.com/xoX5DfnHkp— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 13, 2018
However, all of this work was absolutely necessary to ensure the smooth landing of the seismometer, which landed on the surface of Mars on Wednesday, December 19.
As InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt explained, the seismometer could easily be considered the most important instrument for the InSight mission, and it was critical that it was deployed onto Mars with no mishaps.
“Seismometer deployment is as important as landing InSight on Mars. The seismometer is the highest-priority instrument on InSight: We need it in order to complete about three-quarters of our science objectives.”
The seismometer will allow scientists to analyze marsquakes, so that ground motion on the planet can be observed. By studying the movement of seismic waves on the red planet, scientists will be able to learn much more about both their composition and depth. Philippe Lognonne, principal investigator of SEIS from Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris noted the importance of the mission.
“Having the seismometer on the ground is like holding a phone up to your ear. We’re thrilled that we’re now in the best position to listen to all the seismic waves from below Mars’ surface and from its deep interior.”
In case you missed it, here’s one for the history books: for the first time ever, I’ve placed a seismometer on the surface of #Mars! Once it’s all set up, I can start listening for marsquakes. More: https://t.co/GYNO4txPPi pic.twitter.com/vUkedVMcTX— NASA InSight (@NASAInSight) December 20, 2018
Engineers working at NASA’s InSight mission are currently working on leveling the newly-landed seismometer and once this has been completed, the first batch of exciting data taken on Mars will be sent back to Earth.