NASA's next interplanetary mission won't be a space boat or a comet-hopper, but another mission to Mars, this time with a stationary probe to drill into the planet. The InSight lander could rival the Mars rover Curiosity's amazing laser in terms of Martian instrument-penetration, drilling 30 feet into the planet's crust.
The InSight mission - an acronym for Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - made the cut for the space agency's Discovery program, NASA said today. It will be designed and built at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, just like Curiosity. It won't need an absurd, heart-stopping sky crane, however - it'll land on its own feet after it launches in 2016.
The bargain $425 million mission will seek to answer how Mars formed. With Curiosity, Spirit and Opportunity, Phoenix and others, scientists now know a lot about the Martian surface, but not much is known about the planet's insides. Still no one is sure whether the planet has a molten core, for instance. Opportunity made some measurements this spring that will help, but InSight will get lots more answers. It's practically a carbon copy of the Phoenix lander, which successfully photographed the Martian snow. Like almost every other Mars lander, InSight is solar-powered. Learn more about it in the video at the bottom.