InSight Mars Mission Chosen for 2016 Launch
August 21, 2012 • 10:17AM

NASA announced, at a hastily-called telephone briefing late Monday afternoon, that it has chosen InSight as the next Discovery-class planetary mission. Discovery missions have a cost cap of $425 million, in 2010 dollars, and are generally on a quick schedule.

They also have been cancelled, if they went over the cost cap.

InSight will place two instruments on the surface of Mars, to probe the planet's crust, and to take its temperature below the surface. JPL will provide a geodetic instrument to determine the planet's axis of rotation, and a robotic arm and two cameras that will be used to deploy and monitor the two French and German instruments to be placed on the surface. The mission is designed to peer under the surface to examine the interior and structure of Mars. Asked by a reporter about the recent indication that there may be plate tectonics on Mars, Dr. Jim Green, head of NASA's planetary science programs, said the remnant magnetic field could have been broken up due to plate tectonics, and Dr. John Grunsfeld, head of NASA science programs, said the claim is very recent, but if so, could be very exciting.

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) will build a subsurface probe to measure the flow of heat from the interior of the planet, to shend light on whether there is a liquid or solid core. The French space agency (CNES) is leading a consortium to build an instrument to measure seismic waves (Marsquakes). It is not surprising that French scientists would be involved. In 2001, France designed a 2007 Mars Netlander mission, to place a network of four instruments in different regions of the planet, to measure seismic activity and investigate the interior of Mars. That mission was later delayed, and was finally cancelled in 2003. The proposed small single-lander InSight is, in fact, a pale reflection of what had been a much more ambitious mission.