When you’re sending a piece of high-tech hardware to another planet it might make sense to shoot for a location that is strange or interesting in some way. There’s lots of places on Mars that scientists would love to see up close, but NASA’s InSight lander isn’t headed to any of them. Instead, it’s going to touch down on a flat, barren area with virtually no landmarks in sight. Believe it or not, that’s exactly what NASA was looking for.
In a new post, NASA explains why it chose such a seemingly unremarkable piece of Martian real estate to touch down on, and it all centers around the InSight robot’s capabilities.
InSight should, when it lands later this month and deploys its various instruments, be able to tell scientists a lot about Mars, but that information will have very little to do with what’s above the surface. InSight, as its name suggests, will be peering deep into Mars with electronic ears, painting a picture of the inner workings of the planet that are largely still a mystery.
Because of that, aiming for a landing site that is interesting on the surface is of little interest to the InSight team, and so they’ve pointed their lander at a nice, flat area with virtually nothing going on up top.
“Previous missions to the Red Planet have investigated its surface by studying its canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil,” Bruce Banerdt, principal investigator on the InSight mission, said in a statement. “But the signatures of the planet’s formation processes can be found only by sensing and studying evidence buried far below the surface. It is InSight’s job to study the deep interior of Mars, taking the planet’s vital signs – its pulse, temperature and reflexes.”
It’s an important mission, even if it’s not going to return a whole lot of eye candy, and NASA is just fine with that. As for the landing site, Banerdt describes it as so: “If it were an ice cream, it would be vanilla.” Hey, who doesn’t like vanilla ice cream?