NASA picks another Mars flight to explore its core (Update)

Aug 20, 2012 by SETH BORENSTEIN
Mars. Image: NASA

After driving all around Mars with four rovers, NASA wants to look deep into the guts of the red planet.

The space agency decided Monday to launch a relatively low-cost robotic lander in 2016 to check out what makes the Martian core so different from Earth's.

NASA's Discovery program picked a project called Insight over missions to a Saturn moon and a comet, drawing complaints from scientists who study other places in our solar system that NASA is too focused on Mars.

All three proposed missions were good, but the Mars one showed the best chance of making it within budget and on schedule, said NASA sciences chief John Grunsfeld. The missions cost no more than $425 million.

The Insight mission includes two instruments, one French and one German, that would examine the geology of Mars in depth. It would explore the core's size, composition, temperature and wobble.

The interior of Mars is a mystery. It has no magnetic field, and scientists aren't sure if the core is solid or liquid or even has frequent quakes like Earth.

Artist rendition of the proposed InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) Lander. Image credit: JPL/NASA

"What kind of Mars quakes are there? How big is the core of Mars? Does it have remnants of a molten core like the Earth does?" asked Discovery program chief Lindley Johnson.

Geologists have been asking for this type of crucial information for decades, said H. Jay Melosh of Purdue University, who said it was about time a project like this was approved.

The mission will be run by NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab. The California lab is basking in the success of the $2.5 billion Mars Curiosity rover, which is starting to explore the planet's surface after a daring landing this month. Earlier this year, NASA pulled out of two Mars missions with the European Space Agency because it didn't have the $1.4 billion for the proposed 2016 and 2018 mission.

NASA is still working on another possible Mars mission to replace the canceled ones with a decision later this month.

That's just "too much emphasis on Mars in our current plans for planetary exploration," said Carolyn Porco, a prominent scientist who studies Saturn and its moons. "Most of the solar system resides beyond the orbits of the asteroids. There is more to learn there about general planetary processes than on Mars ... Why more Mars?"

Mars beat out missions to explore Saturn's moon Titan and its odd methane oceans and a mission to land on a comet as it nears the sun. Opponents of more Mars msissions say that NASA hasn't approved missions to the other outer planets or a comet since a Pluto mission was picked in 2001.

Explore further: Life on Mars? Implications of a newly discovered mineral-rich structure

More information: NASA: discovery.nasa.gov

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User comments : 17

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Arcbird
1.4 / 5 (5) Aug 20, 2012
Would this be in the form of rover or an orbiter?
yyz
4.2 / 5 (5) Aug 20, 2012
Aw shucks, I was pulling for the Comet Hopper mission to Comet Wirtanen: http://en.wikiped...t_Hopper

The other mission considered was the Titan Mare Explorer: http://en.wikiped...Explorer

"Would this be in the form of rover or an orbiter?"

Neither. The article states that this would be "a relatively low-cost robotic lander". You can find more info on the Mars InSight mission here: http://en.wikiped.../InSight

Uneducated
5 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2012
I would have voted for the Titan mission
Infinion
2.7 / 5 (7) Aug 20, 2012
Would this be in the form of rover or an orbiter?


this physorg article: http://phys.org/n...tml#nRlv

related stories on RHS of all articles :D
Raygunner
5 / 5 (2) Aug 20, 2012
Don't forget that New Horizons will reach Pluto in 2015. Just about the time the Curiosity rover starts to wind down.
chromosome2
2 / 5 (8) Aug 21, 2012
Studying all those other planets, moons, dwarf planets, asteroids and whatnot is great, I'm sure we'll learn a lot-- but Mars is absolutely necessary for humanity to take the next step in becoming an interplanetary species, which is in turn crucial for our survival past a certain point. I'd cut off all science past the asteroid belt if it meant we'd have a self-sustaining martian colony sooner. Survival has got to be the priority. Reality has a way of killing off things that aren't spread out enough.
Sinister1811
1 / 5 (8) Aug 21, 2012
But, what does this mission have to do with an eventual Human colonization and habitation of Mars? This is basically just a lander designed to study the core of Mars.
GSwift7
2 / 5 (7) Aug 21, 2012
I agree that Titan would be fantastic. However, timing is an issue for NASA. I think there's a general public belief right now that NASA hasn't been doing much. By choosing this smaller mission in stead of a 10-20 year mission to Titan, perhaps they can do something exciting in the near-term. A manned launch system would be nice, and perhaps a manned trip to an asteroid? I would rather see people on an asteroid than a robot on Titan.

Well, actually I'd rather see all of it happen, but people will not go in for the funding right now. Heck, we might not even have enough engineers to do all of the things I'd like to see right now. :)
GSwift7
2.3 / 5 (6) Aug 21, 2012
But, what does this mission have to do with an eventual Human colonization and habitation of Mars? This is basically just a lander designed to study the core of Mars


Everything we land there gives us more practice on landing, for one thing. We still don't know all the things we would like to know about the Martian atmosphere before we send people there. Everything we send gives information from its descent and landing, as well as its primary mission. All of our landers also have weather monitoring and radiation sensors. As you see with Curiosity, the information we have learned from previous missions has allowed us to make much more accurate landings there, though Curiosity was still a little farther off target than we would have liked. You really don't want to send people if you can't land multiple craft near each other safely.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (2) Aug 21, 2012
I say we should give Titan, Io, Ganymed and Europa a shot before doing another Mars mission. Any of these may be in line for settlements (in their cases a settlement below the ice to shield it from radiation - or at the very least a human visit)
If we have multiple ones to chose from we can choose the one that is easiest. The environment on these moons may be more harsh, but landing something sizeable on them would be much easier.
Sinister1811
1.7 / 5 (7) Aug 21, 2012
Indeed, I would love to know more about those mysterious Methane lakes and rivers on the surface of Titan, and potentially whether or not there are any lifeforms that inhabit them. Also, whether or not there exists an ocean beneath the icy crust of Europa. There are other worlds that haven't been explored and are lesser-understood.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2012
Especially the view of the rings would be awesome.
Recently found a youtube video of what the view would be from Earth if Earth had rings like Saturn. It's simply breathtaking.
http://www.youtub...sQ7KIQ-E

(OK, it would probably mean that we couldn't keep a sattelite in orbit - so it's lucky we don't have any rings. But still. Look at that view!)
SleepTech
5 / 5 (1) Aug 21, 2012
Another boring mars project, nothing special here. When are we going to explore Neptune and Uranus? The most recent photos we have of those planets are 40 years old. Talk about learning something, let's try something we haven't done before.
aironeous
1 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2012
They don't want to accept that we have a natural nuclear reactor in our inner core.
aironeous
1 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2012
Once we get asteroid mining going and they are making liquid metals (every alloy will be a liquid metal up there) We should send an umbrella missile into a crater that unfurls and lowers with bulldozer rovers to follow up and bulldoze the gap shut between it and the ground and then the inside is sprayed with a grancrete mixture made from the regolith utilizing the missile shaft. The rovers then dig a tunnel into the dome structure. The colonists arrive and go from their inflatable structure to the dome and then from there tunnel into the side of the crater and start to build their long term shelter and gardens. Carbon rod supplies are landed ahead of time and the Magnegas process is used on all ice recovered by the rovers. CO is outgassed to increase pressure in the crater which will not freeze out and the H2 is kept for the colonists fuel cells. Asteroid miners are responsible for creating and pointing the giant mirror in orbit at the pole to keep the water in circulation.
aironeous
1 / 5 (1) Aug 25, 2012
Once the colonists have dug a tunnel/shelter in the side of the crater they can temp use the dome as an outdoor garden until they complete the underground replacement. A grancrete type material is used the whole time in the tunnel making. Once a full underground complex is made with full garden the dome can be abandoned. If the dome is found to be incapable of proper radiation shielding then a thicker cover of grancrete can be sprayed over time until it is. If that is still not sufficient then a second uninflated inflatable structure can be transfered via the tunnel into the dome structure and any water needed as part of the structure built up over time. By this time though liquid metal alloys capable of withstanding radiation should be there. BAE systems already has a liquid filled micrometorite stopping composite. I don't see why we can't have a fiberous liquid filled layer like they have in tires here called slime.
scintilla
1.5 / 5 (2) Aug 26, 2012
At first I was against the Mars mission for similar reasons to Dr Porco, but after the MSL success I can see the wisdom behind the selection of Insight. Outer planetary missions are risky and take lots of time, which is not good in the current precarious climate for funding of such missions. We need to concentrate on missions with a high probability of success that will quickly give tangible results. Also we need to thoroughly explore the possibility of establishing an outpost on Mars, and learning as much as possible about the Martian environment is part of that.

Space exploration is very tricky business and if we are overly ambitious and have too many failures at this early stage it may set back progress by many decades.