InSight Mars: NASA Evaluates Landing Sites For Its 2016 Drilling Mission

By Josh Lieberman on September 5, 2013 5:40 PM EDT

insight probe
The InSight lander (above, in artist's rendering) will try to determine whether the core of Mars is liquid or solid. NASA is evaluating four possible landing sites on the Martian surface. (Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech)

NASA is evaluating landing sites for its next trip to Mars, a 2016 mission that will see the InSight Mars lander study the planet's core. The space agency is looking into four landing sites for InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

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"We picked four sites that look safest," said geologist Matt Golombek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "They have mostly smooth terrain, few rocks and very little slope." 

That determination will be made using cameras on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter cameras. Each potential site is an ellipse 81 miles from east to west and 17 miles from north to south. NASA believes that InSight will have a 99 percent chance of landing in the chosen ellipse.  

The $425 InSight Mars mission will seek to determine whether the Martian core is liquid or solid. It will also try to discover why the planet doesn't seem to have tectonic plates, as the Earth does. Using a heat-flow probe, InSight will insert itself three to five yards below the Martian surface in order to measure the planet's heat.

"This mission's science goals are not related to any specific location on Mars because we're studying the planet as a whole, down to its core," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at JPL. "Mission safety and survival are what drive our criteria for a landing site." 

The mission will launch in March 2016 and will land on the Red Planet six months later.

READ MORE:

Mars Curiosity Rover Photographs Solar Eclipse While Enroute To Mount Sharp

'Comet Of The Century' Passes By Mars: When Will ISON Be Visible From Earth?

Life Started On Mars? 'We Are Actually All Martians,' Says Biochemist

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