NASA’s InSight lander is looking slick. The latest robot to call Mars home used a camera attached to its robotic arm to get a good look at itself. We see twin solar panels flanking the spacecraft’s base where its suite of scientific instruments are still located.
But InSight plans to stretch out a litter further soon. Right now, scientists and engineers here on Earth are figuring out where the best place to place its seismometer and heat-flow probe.
InSight didn’t ship off to Mars with wheels, so it’s workplace measures about 14 by 7 feet. Here’s a mosaic of 52 images showing how the area right around the lander looks.
“The near-absence of rocks, hills and holes means it’ll be extremely safe for our instruments,” said InSight’s Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This might seem like a pretty plain piece of ground if it weren’t on Mars, but we’re glad to see that.”
The blue strips you see above show the potential target areas for InSight’s seismometer and heat-flow probe.
Mars’ Elysium Planitia region (which sits just north of the equator) was picked exactly because of its mostly rock-free terrain. But InSight’s landing spot is as good as it gets. NASA says the lander is sitting in a nearly rock-free “hollow” – a depression formed by a meteor impact long ago that was filled with sand. The InSight team believes the spacecraft’s heat-flow probe should have no issues reaching its target depth of 16 feet below the surface.
The next few weeks will be spent looking for the perfect spot to place InSight’s instruments. The main thing the team is looking to avoid is any rocks larger than a half-inch which doesn’t look like it will be too difficult based on the image showing the lander’s immediate surroundings.
So far, InSight is doing awesome. It nailed the landing. Found as good of a home as it could find. And is gearing up to deploy a suite of instruments that will help fill in the knowledge gaps of Earth’s closest neighbor.