Illustration of spacecraft on the surface of Mars.

An artist's concept of NASA's InSight lander on Mars. Credit: NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory-Caltech. Full image and caption ›

What is InSight?

NASA's InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) is the first mission to study the deep interior of Mars.

  • InSight is investigating Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.
  • The mission seeks to answer one of science's most fundamental questions: How did the terrestrial planets form?
  • Two suitcase-sized spacecraft called CubeSats separated from the main InSight spacecraft and followed it to Mars.

Wind Sounds on Mars

InSight sensors captured a haunting low rumble caused by vibrations from the Martian wind, estimated to be blowing at 10 to 15 mph (5 to 7 meters a second) on Dec. 1, 2018. The winds were consistent with the direction of dust devil streaks in the landing area, which were observed from orbit.

Listen to Martian wind blow across NASA’s InSight lander. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CNES/IPGP/Imperial College/Cornell

Nation United States of America (USA), France, Germany
Objective(s) Mars Landing
Spacecraft InSight
Spacecraft Mass 794 pounds (360 kilograms)
Mission Design and Management NASA / JPL
Launch Vehicle Atlas V 401
Launch Date and Time May 5, 2018 | 11:05 UT
Launch Site Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. (USA)
Scientific Instruments 1. SEIS (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) Seismometer
2. HP3 (Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe) Self-Hammering Mole that Burrows Beneath the Martian Soil
3. RISE (Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment) Measures Planet's Motion

InSight also has:
-Robot Arm
-Two Color Cameras
-IR Radiometer
-Laser Retroreflector

Firsts

  • InSight lander brought the first seismometer to Mars.
  • InSight recorded "sounds" of Martian winds on the Red Planet for the first time.

Key Dates

May 5, 2018: Launch

Nov. 26, 2018: Mars landing

A 3D model of NASA's InSight Mars lander. Credit: NASA Visualization Technology Applications and Development (VTAD) › Download Options

In Depth: Mars Insight

NASA's InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is a Mars lander operating on the surface of the Red Planet since Nov. 26, 2018.

Its mission is to give Mars its first thorough checkup since the planet formed 4.5 billion years ago. InSight is the first robotic explorer to make a detailed study of the "inner space" of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.

The lander has cutting edge instruments, to delve deep beneath the surface of Mars to measure the planet's "vital signs": its "pulse" (seismology), "temperature" (heat flow), and "reflexes" (precision tracking).

Studying Mars' interior will help scientists answer key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system—Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars—as well as rocky exoplanets (planets orbiting other stars). Specifically, the InSight mission seeks to uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by investigating the interior structure and composition of Mars.

InSight is attempting to use an instrument called the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3)—a self-hammering mole—to dig down about 16 feet (5 meters) to take Mars' temperature. So far, the mole hasn't been able to dig deeper than about 12 inches (30 centimeters). Scientists continue to troubleshoot the problems with the tool and hope to get it working properly.

"We've completed the first step in our plan to save the mole," said Troy Hudson of a scientist and engineer with the InSight mission at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. "We're not done yet. But for the moment, the entire team is elated because we're that much closer to getting the mole moving again."

InSight also is measuring tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars. The spacecraft brought the first seismometer to Mars—​the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS).

Provided by the French space agency, Centre National d'Études Spatiales (CNES), the seismometer detected its first marsquake on April 6, 2019. The InSight mission's Marsquake Service, which monitors the data from SEIS, is led by Swiss research university ETH Zurich.

InSight also is providing daily weather reports from Mars. This public tool includes stats on temperature, wind and air pressure recorded at InSight's landing site. The tool was developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, with partners at Cornell University and Spain's Centro de Astrobiología. JPL leads the InSight mission.

Through a package of sensors called the Auxiliary Payload Subsystem (APSS), InSight is providing around-the-clock weather information. The lander records this data during each second of every sol (a Martian day) and sends it to Earth on a daily basis.

The rocket that launched InSight also launched a separate NASA technology experiment: two mini-spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO. These briefcase-sized CubeSats flew on their own path to Mars behind InSight.

MarCO was the first interplanetary mission to use CubeSats. The MarCOs — nicknamed EVE and WALL-E, after characters from a Pixar film—served as communications relays during InSight's landing, beaming back data at each stage of its descent to the Martian surface in near-real time, along with InSight's first image. WALL-E sent back stunning images of Mars as well, while EVE performed some simple radio science.

All of this was achieved with experimental technology that cost a fraction of what most space missions do: $18.5 million provided by JPL, which built the CubeSats.

WALL-E was last heard from on Dec. 29, 2018; EVE, on Jan. 4, 2019. Based on trajectory calculations, WALL-E is currently more than 1 million miles (1.6 million kilometers) past Mars; EVE is farther, almost 2 million miles (3.2 million kilometers) past Mars.

Even if they're never revived, the team considers MarCO a spectacular success.

"This mission was always about pushing the limits of miniaturized technology and seeing just how far it could take us," said Andy Klesh, the mission's chief engineer at JPL. "We've put a stake in the ground. Future CubeSats might go even farther."

InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program for highly focused science missions that ask critical questions in solar system science.

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