InSight Mission Overview


    InSight — Studying the 'Inner Space' of Mars

    InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, was a Mars lander that gave the Red Planet its first thorough checkup since it formed 4.5 billion years ago. It was the first outer space robotic explorer to study in depth the "inner space" of Mars: its crust, mantle, and core.

    Interior of Mars
    Mars' Interior: Artist's rendition showing the inner structure of Mars. The topmost layer is known as the crust, underneath it is the mantle, which rests on a solid inner core.

    Studying Mars' interior structure helps answer key questions about the early formation of rocky planets in our inner solar system Mercury, Venus, Earth, and Mars more than 4 billion years ago, as well as rocky exoplanets. InSight also measured tectonic activity and meteorite impacts on Mars today.

    The lander's cutting-edge instruments were designed to delve deep beneath the surface and seek the fingerprints of the processes that formed the terrestrial planets. InSight’s task: to track the planet's "vital signs" – its "pulse" (seismology), "temperature" (heat flow), and "reflexes" (precision tracking).

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

    First CubeSats to Deep Space

    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.

    Their goal was to test new miniaturized deep space communication equipment. Upon their arrival at Mars, the twin MarCOs successfully relayed back InSight data as it entered the Martian atmosphere and landed. This was the first test of miniaturized CubeSat technology at another planet, which researchers hope can offer new capabilities to future missions.

    InSight Science Goals

    InSight sought to uncover how a rocky body forms and evolves to become a planet by investigating the interior structure and composition of Mars. The mission worked to determine the rate of Martian tectonic activity and meteorite impacts.

    The InSight Mars lander had two science objectives that supported the mission's science goals:

    Formation & Evolution: Understand the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets through investigation of the interior structure and processes of Mars.

    Tectonic Activity: Determine the present level of tectonic activity and meteorite impact rate on Mars.

    Why Mars?

    Previous missions to Mars investigated the surface history of the Red Planet by examining features like canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil. However, signatures of the planet's formation can only be found by sensing and studying its "vital signs" far below the surface.

    In comparison to the other terrestrial planets, Mars is neither too big nor too small. This means that it preserves the record of its formation and can give us insight into how the terrestrial planets formed. It is the perfect laboratory from which to study the formation and evolution of rocky planets. Scientists know that Mars has low levels of geological activity. But a lander like InSight could also reveal just how active Mars really is.