The mission on Mars was lucky: a NASA lander landed in a crater filled with sand, making it easier to study the inside of the planet | Science

InSight images show that the LG is sitting in a flat crater and filled with sand.

JPL-Caltech / NASA

By Paul Voosen

PASADENA, CALIFORNIAIn a laboratory on Earth, marsforming had already begun.

On November 27, the day after the successful landing of NASA's InSight lander on Mars, after the departure of the television crews, technicians were already at work here at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), simulating Mars for a life-size mock-up of the LG. , which they call ForeSight. Scientists still do not know exactly where Mars InSight is. But the first images returned to Earth established its immediate environment – and that the lander is slightly inclined by 4 °. So yesterday, NASA engineers were playing in the sand, moving fake rocks from Mars to set them up. They raised ForeSight on their shoulders while placing small blocks under a landing gear leg to get the exact list.

Matt Golombek, the JPL geologist, will watch the gallery above ForeSight. He will lead the implementation of two InSight instruments, a thermal probe and a seismometer. From the few photos returned to now, he has learned a lot about his location, which looks a lot like the Martian grounds previously discovered by the Spirit motorcyclist.

For example, InSight landed in what is called a hollow, a crater filled with soil and leveled flat. On images taken from the elbow of the robot robotic arm of the LG, the edge of the crater is visible. Once the team has determined the diameter of the crater (it can be meters or even tens of meters), researchers can deduce the depth and quantity of sand that is blown into it. Be that as it may, it bodes well for the thermal probe instrument, called HP3, which should easily penetrate the material. "This is the best news you can expect for HP3," he says.

Landing in the hollow has been a chance for another reason. InSight did not really hit the bull from its target landing zone and ended up on a terrain that, overall, is rockier than desired. But the hollow is mostly devoid of rocks. One, about 20 centimeters in diameter, rests near the feet of the undercarriage, while three smaller ones are farther apart, but none threaten to place the instruments. The hollow is flat and lacks sand dunes. Small pebbles indicate a sufficiently dense surface to support the weight of the instruments. "We will not have any problem," Golombek said.

The biggest mystery for the LG team right now is knowing exactly where it is. A Martian orbiter tuned Thursday in the center of the landing zone will miss the lander because it is slightly missing the center. An instrument on InSight called inertial measurement unit pinned the location to a circle 5 km wide. InSight's entry, descent and landing team will refine this estimate to one kilometer or less. "But they have not done it yet because they were so happy to have landed safely that we do not know what they did last night," Golombek said with a smile. "And they have not come today."

Another technique could help you: The third main InSight experience, called Rotation and Internal Structure Experiment (RISE). The main objective of the two sensitive listening antennas of RISE is to detect the oscillations in the Martian nucleus. But the InSight team can also use them to map the latitude and longitude of the LG using the radio signals of the passing orbiters. This allowed the geologists to be at about a hundred meters.

Now, a friendly competition is launched. Golombek and his peers hope to beat the satellites to repair InSight's location. They should have until December 6, when an orbiter will probably capture it. Right now, they are expanding the meager images and trying to compare their hollow cards to existing high resolution cards. Their work will become much easier next week, when the camera on the elbow of the robotic arm will be extended to photograph in detail the land of the lander. For the moment, the arm is tidy. On Tuesday, they were simple measures, such as the elimination of small loads that hold the arm on the deck. But later this week, after the release of camera caps and arm release, detailed reconnaissance will begin.

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