NASA’s InSight Lander Passes Halfway Point to Mars

This artist’s concept
shows the InSight spacecraft, encapsulated in its aeroshell, as it cruises to
Mars and Nov. 26, 2018 touchdown
at Elysium Planitia
.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Ken Kremer     24 August 2018

NASA’s InSight lander marked a major milestone when it cruised past
 the halfway point on its interplanetary voyage
enroute to the Red Planet. on the agency’s unprecedented mission to elucidate
the “vital signs” of the Red Planet.

announced that the InSight spacecraft is healthy and reached the halfway point
to Mars on Aug. 6. 

of its instruments have been tested and are working well,” NASA officials

“As of Aug. 20, the spacecraft had covered 172
million miles (277 million kilometers) since its launch 107 days ago.”
The probe has another 98 days and another 129
million miles (208 million kilometers) to go before its planned touch down in
Mars’ Elysium Planitia region, where it will be the first mission to study the
Red Planet’s deep interior.

Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport
(InSight) Mars mission launched on a
United Launch
Alliance Atlas V rocket in the dead of night
at 7:05 a.m. EDT (4:05 am PDT) Saturday from
Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

This long-exposure image
(24 seconds) was taken by Instrument Context Camera (ICC) of NASA’s InSight
Mars lander. The image shows some of the interior features of the backshell
that encapsulates the spacecraft. The backshell carries the parachute and
several components used during later stages of entry, descent, and landing.
Along with the heatshield, the backshell protects NASA’s InSight Mars lander
during its commute to and entry into the Martian atmosphere. Credits:

7 months after liftoff the landing is
scheduled for Nov. 26, 2018 at
Elysium Planitia at around
3 p.m. EST (noon PST). 
The location is about 375 miles away from Gale Crater –
where NASA’s Curiosity rover landed in 2012. 

the intervening time between launch and landing the team is checking out the spacecraft
and science instruments as well as rehearsing and rechecking all the procedures
for the critical ‘do or die’ landing day and the ‘6 Minutes of Terror’ involving
all phases of Entry, Descent and Landing (EDL).

“InSight’s seismometer, which will be used to
detect quakes on Mars, received a clean bill of health on July 19. The SEIS
instrument (Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure) is a six-sensor
seismometer combining two types of sensors to measure ground motions over a
wide range of frequencies. It will give scientists a window into Mars’ internal
activity,” NASA said in a statement.

“We did our final performance checks on
July 19, which were successful,” said Bruce Banerdt, principal
investigator of InSight from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena,

“The team also checked an instrument that will
measure the amount of heat escaping from Mars. After being placed on the
surface, InSight’s Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument
will use a self-hammering mechanical mole burrowing to a depth of 10 to 16 feet
(3 to 5 meters). Measurements by sensors on the mole and on a science tether
from the mole to the surface will yield the first precise determination of the
amount of heat escaping from the planet’s interior. The checkout consisted of
powering on the main electronics for the instrument, performing checks of its
instrument sensor elements, exercising some of the instrument’s internal
heaters, and reading out the stored settings in the electronics module.”

“The third of InSight’s three main
investigations — Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE) — uses the
spacecraft’s radio connection with Earth to assess perturbations of Mars’
rotation axis. These measurements can provide information about the planet’s

Artist’s rendering of the NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic
Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander on Mars launching
on May 5, 2018 from Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif .  Credits: NASA

The team has also checked out the landers
cameras as well. They also used the Instrument Context Camera (ICC) to take a 24
second long long-exposure spacecraft selfie inside of the spacecraft’s

“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,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman from JPL.

“The next picture we plan to take with this
camera will be of the surface of Mars.”

If all goes as planned, the camera will take the
first image of Elysium Planitia minutes after InSight touches down on Mars.

is funded by NASA’s Discovery Program of low cost, focused science missions
along with the science instrument funding contributions from France and

Watch for Ken’s continuing coverage of NASA, ULA, SpaceX, Boeing,
Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more
reports direct from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station,
Florida and Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing
Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: – –
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Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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