In 2016, NASA is planning to make a rocket-powered descent to the surface of Mars. Once on the surface, the stationary Mars lander will analyze various aspects of the interior of the planet, such as whether it is a solid or liquid and whether it has tectonic plates like those on Earth.
NASA science head John Grunsfeld made the statement: "This has been something that has interested the scientific community for many years. Seismology, for instance, is the standard method by which we've learned to understand the interior of the Earth and we have no such knowledge for Mars."
Grunsfeld adds, "This has been something that the principal investigator has been trying to get to Mars for nearly three decades. So I'm really thrilled that this is now at a mature stage where he has been able to propose something that squarely fits within the cost and schedule constraints of the Discovery program."
The mission is named Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, or InSight for short.
And, "NASA requested Discovery mission proposals in June 2010 and received 28. InSight was one of three proposed missions selected in May 2011 for funding to conduct preliminary design studies and analyses. The other two proposals were for missions to a comet and Saturn's moon Titan."
InSight will consist of a robotic arm, two cameras (black-and-white), a geodetic instrument (to measure the rotational axis of Mars), a seismometer, a subsurface probe (to measure heat flow from the interior), and other instruments.
The two-year mission is scheduled to be launched in March 2016, with a landing on Mars in September 2016.
The principal investigator for the InSight mission is American geologist William Bruce Banerdt, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
The science team for InSight includes American and international investigators from universities, industry, and government agencies. In addition, the French space agency Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) are contributing instruments to InSight.
More on the InSight mission is found at the NASA/JPL website: "InSight … into the early evolution of terrestrial planets"