On November 30th, NASA’s newest Mars explorer captured a photo of its own robotic arm standing upright against a ruddy-brown sky. This came only four days after nailing its touchdown on the equatorial Martian plain known as Elysium Planitia.
The image was snapped by InSight’s Instrument Deployment Camera, which is located approximately two-thirds of the way down the lander’s 5.75-foot-long (1.8 meters) arm.
That five-fingered, wax-actuated grapple is essential for the success of InSight’s mission, which costs $850 million. The mission aims to chart the interior of Mars in never before seen detail. The lander will use the claw to place its two main science tools — a burrowing heat probe and a suite of seismometers — directly on the red dirt of Elysium Planitia. What’s more, InSight will put a thermal and weather shield over the seismometers, which are so sensitive that they can detect seismic waves with the amplitude of a single atom.
According to NASA officials, the stationary lander won’t begin these deployments until two to three months after landing. The mission team will examine InSight’s environs in detail for a while, to ensure they pick the right deployment spots and have practiced the necessary moves sufficiently.
That practice will be done using a test-bed lander at the mission’s home base, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The measurements InSight makes over the next Mars year (nearly two Earth years) should assist scientists in learning more about how rocky planets in general form and evolve, according to NASA officials.
Elysium Planitia sits approximately 340 miles (550 kilometres) from Gale Crater, which NASA’s car-size Curiosity rover has been exploring since August 2012. Curiosity supported InSight, welcoming it to Mars and congratulating the lander for accomplishing important milestones (on Twitter, of course).
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