Landscape of the Mars planet photographed by NASA’s Curiosity robot, October 30, 2012
About 385 million kilometers to go in just over six months to try to break through Mars the mystery of the formation of terrestrial planets: the mission of the InSight probe that took off Saturday as planned California.
The vehicle dubbed Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) quickly climbed into the misty sky above the Vandenberg base of the US Air Force in California, powered by an Atlas V rocket at 11:05 GMT.
“Three, two, one, take off,” said a NASA commentator before the rocket left his firing point.
Kristina Williams, in charge of the weather for the launch, said Thursday that fog should not be a problem. NASA officials said Friday that the visibility requirements could be ignored for the occasion.
“There is nothing routine going on Mars, especially landing on Mars,” said Stu Spath, Lockheed Martin Space’s InSight Program Manager, who is building the joint venture rocket with Boeing.
The launch was originally scheduled for 2016, but leaks on one instrument had resulted in a postponement to 2018. The windows of shooting favorable for the red planet appear only every two years.
If all goes as planned this time, the spacecraft should arrive at its destination on November 26th, becoming the first NASA aircraft to land on Mars from the Curiosity vehicle in 2012.
Its mission will be to detect the Martian earthquakes that, according to the description of NASA, are “like a flash that illuminates the internal structure of the planet”.
InSight needs to collect data through three instruments: a seismometer, a device to accurately locate the probe, Mars oscillating on its axis of rotation, and a heat flow sensor capable of inserting three to five meters into the Martian subsoil, fifteen times more than in previous missions.
– From ball to planet –
As Earth and Mars probably formed in a similar way 4.5 billion years ago, NASA hopes to shed light on why they are so different.
Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun that is smaller and less geologically active than the blue planet, could harbor some clues in the matter.
For, on Earth, the process of moving from “a ball of rocks without characteristic reliefs to a planet” that can support life has been masked by billions of years of earthquakes and movements of molten rocks in the mantle. explained Bruce Banerdt, InSight’s chief scientist at NASA’s JPL laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Scientists expect to record up to a hundred “Mars tremors” during the mission which will last about two Earth years. Most should be below 6.0 on the Richter Scale.
Experts already know that Mars is undergoing earthquakes, avalanches and meteorite falls, says Jim Green, director of planetary sciences at NASA.
“But how earthquake-prone Mars is – it’s the basic information that we need as humans exploring Mars,” he said.
The Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) was designed by France’s National Center for Space Studies (CNES), while the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) is a collaboration between space agencies. German DLR and Polish CBK.
Besides understanding the formation and evolution of telluric planets, the goal is also to determine the current tectonic activity on Mars and its impact rate by meteorites.
According to NASA, the total cost of the mission is $ 993 million.
In addition, a pair of suitcase-sized satellites named Mars Cube One (MarCO) will be onboard, and will be used to assess the communication capabilities of small equipment in deep space.
They must follow their own run to Mars in the wake of InSight, which they could transmit data on its entry into the Martian atmosphere and landing.