I am in no way an expert on Planet observations and so if my hypotheses are a little off, I apologize, but overall the basics are true to fact.
Earlier this month France’s CNES (National Center of Space Studies of France) & NASA agreed to team up for a joint mission to Mars to study the planet interior (Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigation, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight.) Calls from some are saying ‘Why don’t we go already….this is enough, what more do you need to know…’ The answer is quite simply – LOTS.
Let’s not make this about Mars specifically except to say it is rather distant so we better get it right or it becomes a suicide mission. With any planet, even the Moon, there are many explorations that need to occur first. It takes an average of 15 to 20 years of robotic probes to glean the information – and it doesn’t really count the fly-bys. Of course in somewhere as far away as Mars is, that 15 year number stretches out into 30-40 years. Consider when we send something to observe a quality of the Moon, the days spent in transit start as low as three but often take a circuitous route as long as a month. (We started sending probes in earnest in 1973) What of the fly-bys; they just tell one what area to zero in on or stay away from when the probe finally lands. What is considered important can vary from basic knowledge about the planet (is it made of cheese? Does it have an atmosphere? Is it a lava planet?) - to a deeper understanding of the Carbon Cycle & Ecosystems, the atmospheric composition, Water & Energy cycles (and are they present?), Climate variability, Weather, Seismic Activity? Teutonic Plate shifts? And in the case of Mars since it is assumed that once it was a vibrant planet such as our own, our m\need to know is two-fold. Not only is it important to know what our Astro-Explorers are in for when they arrive, but also important to understand what happened to the planet as it could have a very real impact here on Earth.
Some people who say load up the spacecraft and let’s go now saying just compare it to Columbus not having waited to explore the New World. They obviously missed the part about his ‘discovery’ being an accident forgetting his mission was to find a nifty new route to Asia. Following that logic we could leave now and land on Venus by accident!
The undertaking of this next step in Mars data – with France is set for some time in 2016. Aside from studying Mars’ evolutionary history, InSight will also be studying the Martian tectonic activity and impacts from meteorites by utilizing CNES’ Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure instrument (SEIS).
We’re getting all set for the coming journey to Mars – can you feel it? The excitement. Can you hear it? She’s calling our name!