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NASA gets ready to launch the first lander to investigate Mars’ insides

The InSight probe should be in position to sense seismic activity by early 2019

By
7:00am, May 3, 2018
an illustration of the Mars lander InSight

LYING IN WAIT  The next Mars lander, InSight (illustrated), is due to launch on May 5, and will listen for seismic waves rippling through the Red Planet.

Mars is about to get its first internal checkup. The InSight lander, set to launch at 7:05 a.m. EDT on May 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, will probe the Red Planet’s innards by tracking seismic waves and taking its temperature.

Finding out what Mars’ interior is like could help scientists learn how the Red Planet formed 4.5 billion years ago, and how other rocky planets, including Earth, might have formed too. “It’s going to fill in some really big holes in our understanding of the universe,” says principal investigator Bruce Banerdt, a geophysicist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Mars is the perfect planet for this project: It’s large enough to be geologically interesting and, like the Earth, has a core and mantle beneath its crust. But the Red Planet isn’t so large and geologically active that its crust is constantly changing and erasing

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