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JPL to guide new vehicle to Mars in 2016

The 2016 mission, dubbed InSight, will explore the interior of the planet, investigating Mars’ core, tracking seismic activity, monitoring the gravitational pull of Mars’ two moons and assessing why Mars does not have tectonic plates like those that compose Earth’s crust. The mission is expected to last two years and enrich knowledge of the formation of all the planets in the solar system.

Bruce Banerdt, a JPL geophysicist who has worked on Mars exploration for two decades, will lead the mission. Suzanne Smrekar, a principal investigator at JPL for 20 years who last year won an award for her work on the volcanoes of Venus, is deputy principal investigator. Tom Hoffman will manage the $425 million project.

InSight will carry a seismic measuring instrument developed primarily by the French Space Agency, a geothermal instrument developed by the German Space Agency, and equipment made by the Lockheed-Martin Corp.

NASA’s InSight announcement came shortly after the Mars Science Laboratory, known as the rover Curiosity, completed its nine-month flight to Mars on Aug. 5. NASA officials have said the decision to approve another Martian mission was made before Curiosity’s landing, though lawmakers and others have expressed concern in recent months that NASA and federal appropriators are failing to offer enough support to planetary science missions.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank), said the mission will answer key questions about Mars and continue the work of planetary scientists at JPL.  “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,” he said in a statement.

Follow Bill on Twitter @bkisliuk

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