NASA might already have plenty of hardware on and around Mars — it’ll have one less if Opportunity never wakes back up — but more is always better. That’s why NASA launched the InSight spacecraft earlier this year. The new lander will touch down on the Red Planet later this year, and NASA just announced that it has successfully passed the halfway point in its journey to its new home.
InSight is unlike any Mars mission before it. The lander is designed to listen, specifically to the rumblings going on inside the planet, and relay data that will help scientists understand what’s going on deep under the Martian soil.
“As of Aug. 20, the spacecraft had covered 172 million miles (277 million kilometers) since its launch 107 days ago,” NASA explains in a blog post. “In another 98 days, it will travel another 129 million miles (208 million kilometers) and touch down in Mars’ Elysium Planitia region, where it will be the first mission to study the Red Planet’s deep interior.”
InSight, which stands for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport,” isn’t a rover. It won’t be cruising across the Martian landscape in search of interesting rocks or land formations. Instead, it will land, deploy its suite of instruments, and listen closely.
The lander is packed with tools that will help it detect seismic vibrations. Those vibrations, which are generated naturally deep within the planet, can be used as a sort of improvised “CT Scan” of the planet’s guts. As the waves bounce around and InSight maps their movements, it will reveal what Mars is like deep under ground, hopefully relaying data that scientists can use to determine the planet’s layer structure.
Or, maybe it’ll find an entire hidden civilization of underground Martian mole-people. You never know.