NASA’s InSight Mars Lander was supposed to be gearing up for a landing this month. But a leak in the lander’s main science instrument scrubbed the March 2016 launch.
Today, the space agency announced InSight gets another shot. The next Mars launch window opens up in 2018 and the new launch period starts on May 5, 2018. InSight will take about six months to get to Mars with a scheduled landing on Nov. 26, 2018.
Geoff Yoder, the acting associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, is happy to see the mission get a launch date. “It’s gratifying that we are moving forward with this important mission to help us better understand the origins of Mars and all the rocky planets, including Earth,” said Yoder.
But why wait? It’s all about the orbits. Mars missions have to wait until the orbits line up to launch. You can’t just launch a rocket to Mars anytime you want.
Say I’m meeting a friend at the park to jog. My friend starts without me. Do I give chase? Hell no, and it’s not just because I’m out of a shape. I take a shortcut to meet up with him at another point. It’s the same principle in space. Engineers are aiming for a spot where Mars will be close. It’s not energy efficient to just blast off after the planet. NASA has to wait for the orbits to line up just. When they do, we get a launch window lasting about a month.
That’s why NASA had to delay the launch so long. InSight could be ready to go today, but it missed its launch window back in March. Now, it has to wait two years for another launch window to open up.
SpaceX is reportedly looking to send one of their Dragon capsules to Mars in the same 2018 launch window. We don’t know how yesterday’s rocket explosion affects that timeline.
InSight’s delay also means the budget for the mission goes up. NASA’s budget was originally at $675 million. Now? The delay adds $153.8 million. That won’t affect any current mission, but it may lead to fewer newer missions between fiscal years 2017-2020. Damn, NASA needs to hire whoever does the DOT budget. I’ll think we’ll be living on Mars before road work on some of these interstates is finished.
What will InSight do?
First off, InSight is a lander. That means it won’t be rolling around the red planet’s surface looking for trouble. Instead, InSight will sit still on the Martian surface. Several instruments will measure what NASA describes as the planet’s “vital signs.”
The lander is equipped with two main science instruments. A seismometer will measure tiny marsquakes which will help give scientists a clearer picture of Mars interior. A heat-flow probe will be hammered 3 to 5 meters into the ground to monitor heat coming from within the planet.
InSight can do what no other Mars mission has been able to do. Examine what lies beneath. And since Mars is less geologically active than Earth, its interior holds a more complete history of its formation.