Most of what we know about Mars only goes skin deep. We’ve had several orbiters studying the planet with a variety of remote sensing instruments (cameras, lasers, radar, etc.) and several rovers running around on the surface. The Phoenix lander dug around in the soil a little.
But so far, we haven’t been able to look beneath that skin. No drills, no cores, no subsurface probes. We haven’t even gotten a seismometer to the planet, which could be used to learn about the composition of the planet’s interior, and help answer the question of whether Mars still has a molten core. (The Apollo astronauts put seismometers on the Moon to help answer similar questions.)
The InSight mission to Mars seeks to change that. InSight is a lander that will use a seismometer and a heat flow probe to learn about the planet’s interior. (It will also have a surface camera, of course!) The plan is for InSight to launch in early 2016 and land on Mars later that year.
We’ve studied Mars from the outside for decades now… it’s time to look under the hood!
InSight is competing with two other concepts to be the next Discovery mission to Mars. (The others are the Titan Mare Explorer and Comet Hopper.) One of the three will be selected in late 2012. Stay tuned!