NASA is going to launch a robot towards Mars that is very special. The InSight (which is slightly better than ‘Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport’) will be launched today from the Vandenberg Air Force Base, which is unique in itself. It is the first time that an interplanetary mission will depart from there, but that is not the special thing about this robot-lander.
If everything goes well and the Insight has arrived on Mars in about a month or six, he is going to dig. Dig deep. The plan is that the InSight goes at least five meters deep into the soil of Mars and that is exponentially deeper than ever a different robot has dug. If that seems difficult for a lone robot on Mars: that’s it. The robot uses the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3), which is nicknamed “the mole”.
That works like this: the Mole is a kind of tube containing a mechanism that can keep hammering with a spring. This generates a lot of friction and therefore heat and there comes the ‘heat flow’ section around the corner, because after every half meter the device stops and is waited for the heat to return to normal temperatures. That can take hours or even days, but then the Mole continues nicely.
The reason that ‘only’ up to five meters is dug is that there will be deeper than that seriously hard rock, at least that is the opinion of geologists who are working on the problem. The big question is of course: what do they have to do with a hole in Mars? And why does that have to be so deep? Part of the answer is that the scientists want to know how much heat flows from the inside of Mars, because that would give an insight into the material that the planet is made of and to what extent that relates to the moon and the earth.
The drilling itself will yield some interesting samples, but that is only a small part of the mission. Another device called SEIS ( Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure ) is being placed on the surface of Mars before the Mol starts and that is a very sensitive seismometer, which can absorb the vibrations on and below the surface. to measure and so an internal ‘map’ of Mars can be made. A surprisingly large amount of data can be retrieved there, including how much water is still trapped beneath the surface of Mars.
Historically, there was much more to do there than is now to be found and the scientists want to find out how that happened and what it means for our planet, among other things. We still have to wait a long time for results, but today a journey starts that will give us a lot of information. If the launch goes well.