Rep. Schiff Hails Announcement of New Mission to Mars

Today, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) hailed the announcement of a new mission to Mars that will be launched in 2016 to build on the work of several generations of rovers, landers, and orbiters that have been exploring the Red Planet since the 1960s. The new mission, named InSight, will place a lander on the Martian surface to investigate whether the core of Mars is solid or liquid like Earth’s and why Mars’ crust is not divided into tectonic plates that drift like Earth’s. Detailed knowledge of the interior of Mars in comparison to Earth will help scientists understand better how terrestrial planets form and evolve.

“This is fantastic news for our Mars exploration program and will answer several key questions about Martian geology and may help us to understand better the processes that led to Mars and the Earth evolving in such different directions, even though there is evidence that abundant water once flowed on the surface of Mars,” Schiff said. “Also, by announcing this new mission soon after the landing of Curiosity, NASA will help to preserve the entry, descent and landing capabilities that were so spectacularly demonstrated by the scientists at JPL, whose talents will be crucial to future planetary exploration.”

According to NASA, InSight is the 12th selection in the space agency’s series of Discovery-class missions. Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. NASA requested Discovery mission proposals in June 2010 and received 28. InSight was one of three proposed missions selected in May 2011 for funding to conduct preliminary design studies and analyses. The other two proposals were for missions to a comet and Saturn’s moon Titan.

InSight builds on spacecraft technology used in NASA’s highly successful Phoenix lander mission, which was launched to the Red Planet in 2007 and determined water existed near the surface in the Martian polar regions. By incorporating proven systems in the mission, the InSight team demonstrated that the mission concept was low-risk and could stay within the cost-constrained budget of Discovery missions. The cost of the mission, excluding the launch vehicle and related services, is capped at $425 million in 2010 dollars.

InSight will carry four instruments. JPL will provide an onboard geodetic instrument to determine the planet’s rotation axis and a robotic arm and two cameras used to deploy and monitor instruments on the Martian surface. The French space agency, CNES, is leading an international consortium that is building an instrument to measure seismic waves traveling through the planet’s interior. The German Aerospace Center is building a subsurface heat probe to measure the flow of heat from the interior.