NASA’s InSight Lander Deploys First Science Instrument on Mars Surface

This set of images from
the Instrument Deployment Camera shows NASA’s InSight lander placing its first
instrument – the SEIS seismometer – onto the surface of Mars on Dec. 19, 2018, completing a major
mission milestone. Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Ken Kremer &
–14 January 2019

 NASA’s InSight lander has deployed its first instrument onto the
surface of Mars, completing a major mission milestone – namely the SEIS
seismometer. The initial deployment
began just before Christmas and continues today as the science and engineering
team continue active work to fully deploy SEIS onto the Red Planet’s surface
and position if carefully as they optimize it before starting the science
gathering phase.

from the lander show the seismometer on the ground, its copper-colored covering
faintly illuminated in the Martian dusk,” NASA reported on Dec. 19.  “It looks as if all is calm and all is bright
for InSight, heading into the end of the year.”

is the first seismometer ever placed on the surface of another planet and will
be used to measure seismic waves caused by marsquakes, meteorite strikes and
other phenomena on Mars.

activities for InSight continue despite the US Government shutdown which has
halted work by about 95% of NASA employees. 

InSight mission is operated by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.  Some employees have been granted wavers to carry out critical activities. 

InSight’s timetable of activities on Mars
has gone better than we hoped,” said InSight Project Manager Tom Hoffman,
who is based at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California, in a statement before Christmas. 

“Getting the seismometer safely on
the ground is an awesome Christmas present.”  

week SEIS has been leveling and lowering itself closer to the ground.

NASA’s InSight lander
placed its seismometer on Mars on Dec. 19, 2018. This was the first time a
spacecraft robotically placed a seismometer onto the surface of another planet.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight touched down softly on the Red Planet just
two months ago days after Thanksgiving on Nov. 26, 2018 as programmed inside
the 81-mile-long (130-kilometer-long) targeted landing ellipse  on the plains of
Elysium Planitia.’

the first of two deck mounted science instruments that will be deployed to the
Red Planet’s surface over the next few months.

commanded the robot’s robotic arm to pluck SEIS off from the lander deck and
place it onto the surface on Dec. 19.

out the animated GIFs from NASA showing the deployment from various angles and
various days including today, Jan 15. The GIFs were created from real images taken
by InSight’s cameras on Mars.   

A fish-eye view of
NASA’s InSight lander deploying its first instrument – the SEIS seismometer – onto the surface of Mars,
taken by the spacecraft’s Instrument Context Camera (ICC) on Dec. 19, 2018.  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“Seismometer deployment is as important as
landing InSight on Mars,” said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce
Banerdt, also based at JPL. “The seismometer is the highest-priority
instrument on InSight: We need it in order to complete about three-quarters of
our science objectives.”

The robotic arm was checked out first to
be sure it was operating properly before entrusted with commands to deploy
the seismometer – known
as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS

“Engineers tested the
commands for the lander, making sure a model in the test bed at
deployed the instruments exactly as intended. Scientists also
had to analyze images of the Martian terrain around the lander to figure out
the best places to deploy the instruments,” according to the InSight team.

Finally, after carefully
analyzing all the images and test runs the team was ready and on Dec. 19 commanded
the arm to pick up SEIS off from the lander deck and place it on the red Martian
soil directly in front of the lander – “about as far away as the arm can reach
— 5.367 feet, or 1.636 meters, away.”

SEIS will observe and
gather data on how seismic waves, or marsquakes, travel through the deep
interior of Mars.  By studying the
interior ground motion scientists can elucidate the layering of t
he planet’s crust, mantle and core. In turn these results will inform
researchers on how all rocky bodies are formed, including Earth and its Moon.

“Each marsquake acts as a kind of flashbulb that
illuminates the structure of the planet’s interior. By analyzing how seismic
waves pass through the layers of the planet, scientists can deduce the depth
and composition of these layers.”

“Having the seismometer on the ground is
like holding a phone up to your ear,” said Philippe Lognonné, principal
investigator of SEIS from Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris (IPGP) and
Paris Diderot University. “We’re thrilled that we’re now in the best
position to listen to all the seismic waves from below Mars’ surface and from
its deep interior.”

The 7 foot long arm will
also be used to deploy the other deck mounted surface  science instrument – namely the heat probe – known
as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, or HP3
This is NASA InSight’s
first selfie on Mars. It displays the lander’s solar panels and deck. On top of
the deck are its science instruments, weather sensor booms and UHF antenna. The
selfie was taken on Dec. 6, 2018 (Sol 10).  Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech

InSight soft landed on Mars barely two
weeks ago on Nov 26, 2018, following a 7 month, 301 million mile (484 million
km) interplanetary journey from Earth. She now starts a 2-year mission to
explore the Red Planet’s mysterious deep interior.

Watch for Ken’s continuing
onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman
and more space and mission 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: – – twitter
@ken_kremer – email: ken at

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist,
journalist and photographer based in the KSC area.


Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events

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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