Landing InSight on the surface of Mars was an incredible feat all by itself, but the robot has just successfully completed its first major mission milestone. After carefully surveying the nearby terrain, NASA pinpointed a location to deploy the lander’s Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS). InSight successfully placed the sensor on the surface as instructed.
InSight set down on Mars in late November, but it couldn’t just play a game of claw machine to set down the dome-shaped SEIS package. Mars is too far away to control the lander’s robot arm in real time, so NASA engineers had to work out exactly where the instrument would go and map out exactly how InSight would deploy it with minimal risk.
NASA had to ensure the sensor made good contact with the ground. Otherwise, it wouldn’t be able to track the seismic activity beneath the surface. Luckily, InSight’s landing zone is very flat and free of debris. Still, the team constructed a model of the landing zone to confirm placement before sending instructions to the lander on December 18th. This is ahead of schedule based on the vague timeline NASA offered previously.
InSight is going to have a very busy 2019 as we get our first look inside Mars. You can expect plenty of news to come from this robot next year.