InSight's robotic arm ready for some lifting on Mars

Brooks Hays
NASA's flexed robotic arm is preparing to deploy its two main instruments. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's flexed robotic arm is preparing to deploy its two main instruments. Photo by NASA/JPL-Caltech

Dec. 7 (UPI) -- NASA's newest Mars lander InSight is slowly readying itself for its scientific mission. The newest images captured by the lander's camera, and shared by NASA, showcase the spacecraft's robotic arm.

The robotic arm can be seen in a flexed position, poised to deploy some of InSight's instruments in the coming days.


One of those instruments is the craft's seismometer. Once deployed, it will be the first seismometer to be placed directly on the surface of Mars. For the next two years, InSight will stay perfectly still while the domed instrument listens to the seismic waves traveling through Mars.

"The seismometer is so sensitive it can detect vibrations as small as a hydrogen atom," Elizabeth Barrett, a planetary scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, told UPI earlier this year.

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The patterns of different seismic waves can reveal details about Mars' insides. Scientists hope these patterns will help them better understand Mars' inner structures and composition, as well as offer insights into the Red Planet's origins and evolution.

InSight landed on Mars late last month. Over the last several days, the craft's Instrument Deployment Camera has been surveying the surroundings, looking for the ideal place to deploy its two main instruments, the seismometer and heat probe.


Later this month, InSight's 16-foot-heat probe will be hammered into Mars' crust. Measuring almost 16 feet, the probe will help scientists track the flow of heat through Mars' interior.

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"We can see the first glimpses of our workspace," Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a news release. "By early next week, we'll be imaging it in finer detail and creating a full mosaic."

Views of InSight's workspace are aided by the Instrument Context Camera, but the secondary camera's vision isn't quite as clear.

"We had a protective cover on the Instrument Context Camera, but somehow dust still managed to get onto the lens," said Tom Hoffman of JPL, InSight's project manager. "While this is unfortunate, it will not affect the role of the camera, which is to take images of the area in front of the lander where our instruments will eventually be placed."

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