NASA's newest Mars lander to study quakes on Red Planet

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Castile native Nick Warner is taking a special interest in this Saturday's planned launch in California of NASA's InSight Mars lander since he's been instrumental in determining where it will land in November. Another is a seismometer that will be placed on the surface by the lander's robotic arm. Mars doesn't have plate tectonics. It also will study how meteorites have impacted the planet.

The patterns of different seismic waves can reveal details about Mars' insides.

All this, of course, will help NASA better understand the features of the geological activity of Mars, which in turn will allow scientists to reconstruct the history of the planet.

I am excited about weather instruments mounted on the lander deck.

"It's a lander, not a rover, and it will deploy a variety of instruments down onto the ground".

Back in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the Apollo moonwalkers drilled up to 8 feet (2.5 meters) into the lunar surface so scientists back home could measure the underground flow of lunar heat.

"But we have never probed sort of beneath the outermost skin of the planet", said Banerdt.

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Because Earth is bigger and hotter, its core heat still drives convection, powering tectonic and magmatic activity. By measuring changes in Mars' core temperature and movements below the surface, we can work out how active the planet is.

The spacecraft is looking for evidence of "Mars-quakes".

During a pre-launch briefing with journalists Thursday, Scott Messer, ULA's program manager for NASA missions, explained that interplanetary missions usually launch from the East Coast to get an extra boost from the Earth's rotation.

Originally scheduled for 2016, the discovery of several flaws in one of the instruments forced NASA to postpone the mission.

For planetary missions, NASA needs the orbits of Earth and its target to line up just right. If a meteor impacts Mars during the mission's two year primary mission, SEIS could detect it as it rings the planet like a bell. Within two hours of launch, the spacecraft should make its first call home, the earliest confirmation scientists will have that the probe survived the rigours of launch. Alas, currently, engine power, MarCO will not be enough to slow down the machine and allow it to land on the planet, so they will just observe how InSight lands on the planet.

InSight will lift off at 1105 UTC and is meant to be the first mission to peer beneath the Martian surface, studying the planet's interior by measuring its heat output and listening for mars-quakes - seismic events similar to earthquakes on Earth. Mars Cube One, a pair of toaster oven-size spacecraft, will follow the lander to Mars and use experimental communications technologies to relay data about InSight's descent.