All systems go for Mars as InSight passes halfway mark
NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) mission is now over halfway to Mars and the space agency has confirmed that the lander's instruments are online and functioning normally. So far, the spacecraft has covered over 172 million mi (277 million km) since its May 5 launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
According to NASA, InSight, currently cocooned inside the protective aeroshell of the spacecraft's cruise stage, passed the midpoint of its voyage on August 6. However, this is more than just a point on a celestial chart. NASA engineers have been busy during this phase of the mission carrying out practice drills in anticipation of the November 26 landing, conducting detailed checks of the subsystems as well as the onboard instruments that will probe in interior of the Red Planet for the first time.
These checks included a July 19 shakedown of the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, which is a six-sensor seismometer designed to learn more about the interior of the planet by studying "marsquakes." In addition, the InSight team determined the status of the sensors, internal heater, and data package for the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument, which will use a self-hammering probe to drill to a depth of 10 to 16 ft (3 to 5 m) to learn how heat flows from the interior of Mars.
Along with the main geological sensors, the team also checked the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), which will use radio waves to measure the perturbations of Mars' rotation axis to learn more about the planet's core structure. And, like any good traveler, InSight was ordered to take a selfie image of the inside of the protective aeroshell backshield. This camera will also send back the first images after the (hopefully) successful landing on the Elysium Planitia.
"If you are an engineer on InSight, that first glimpse of the heat shield blanket, harness tie-downs and cover bolts is a very reassuring sight as it tells us our Instrument Context Camera is operating perfectly." says InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman. "The next picture we plan to take with this camera will be of the surface of Mars."
The video below updates InSight's status.