Mars no longer hosts tectonic or volcanic activity, but it is still cooling and shrinking, a process scientist believe causes 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.
"Everything we're doing with InSight is trying to understand how Mars formed and evolved", said Mark Panning, co-investigator for the InSight mission. In some cases, sending a smaller satellite first will help lower the risk for larger missions to follow. While that may seem far apart, it's actually fairly close by space standards, according to Brian Clement, an engineer on the project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. A number of European partners, including Frances Centre National dÉtudes Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission.
Mars is looking good, too!
But no one has yet done this on Mars. The 1976 Vikings were the first landing successes.
Car-sized rover Curiosity has spent the last six years gallivanting around rusty red deserts, snapping pictures of Martian vistas and examining soil and rocks.
The exciting mission is created to map the surface of Mars and hunt for so-called "Marsquakes", caused by the contracting of the planet's surface as it cools. The stationary InSight lander carries a thermal protection shell around half the size of Mars 2020's heat shield, and with key design differences, but InSight was built by Lockheed Martin, the same contractor in charge of the Mars 2020 heat shield. In addition to marsquakes, Insight's SEIS instrument will listen for the seismic reverberations triggered by meteorite impacts.
He says Saturday's upcoming mission, InSight, is up there with the Titan IV launch back in 2005.
If other issues postpone the launch, NASA has additional opportunities over the next five weeks to get InSight off the ground before the end of the current orbital alignment between Mars and Earth, which is favorable for such missions.
With knowledge gleaned from the $814m (£600m) InSight mission - the name stands for "Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport" - scientists will gain a better understanding not only of how Mars formed, but how other rocky worlds assembled from primordial dust and debris.
ELYSIUM PLANITIA, The landing site, a stretch of flat, uninterrupted land, will make it easier for the craft to study what's beneath the surface. It has a robot arm measuring 2.4 meters. But it could also detect bigger marsquakes from distant regions more than 1,000 kilometres away, such as the fault-riddled Cerberus Fossae5 or the Tharsis area, with its enormous volcanoes.
Scientists expect to see a dozen to 100 marsquakes over the course of the mission, producing data that will help them deduce the depth, density and composition of the planet's core, the rocky mantle surrounding it and the outermost layer, the crust.
Specifics of the process are scant, she said, and scientists can not look for answers on Earth, as plate tectonics and mantle convection have altered the original composition of the crust.
Scientists know water existed on Mars, with many thinking that billions of years ago, the planet might have had the conditions to support life.