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SUNY Geneseo team helping InSight mission to Mars


The InSight mission has a lot of firsts: It is the first interplanetary mission to launch from the West Coast of the United States.

And it’s the first mission to use a robotic arm to deploy instruments onto the surface of a planet independent of the lander.

But it’s not the first time that Nicholas Warner has done this kind of work.

He is an assistant professor in the geology department at SUNY Geneseo, and he worked on the Opportunity Rover, which has been on Mars since 2004.

After seven years of planning, training and combing through data, InSight will land on Mars on Monday afternoon around 3 p.m. Eastern time, after launching in May.

Warner and his team of two undergraduate students, Megan Kopp and Alyssa DeMott, were key in determining the best place for InSight to land on the red planet. He said what they were looking for was basically like a parking lot on Mars -- smooth, flat and near the equator; InSight is solar-powered.

"So we had to find that by looking at images, 3-D models of the terrain. All those images come from orbiting space craft, the satellites that are orbiting Mars today."

Since this mission is not a rover mission, once InSight lands, it won’t move, and it won’t ever come home. It is scheduled to record data for about two years.  

Credit SUNY Geneseo
Nicholas Warner

"It’s about two Earth years, or one Mars year, is the plan, so what it’s going to do is it’s going to sit there. And those instruments are going to measure Mars quakes. They’re just going to sit there and wait for a quake to happen."

InSight will record data about how planets develop and what goes on deep inside their structures.

"We don’t know anything about the interior structure of planets other than Earth, obviously. We know Earth's got an inner core that’s solid, an outer core that’s liquid, a solid mantle and a crust."

Once the spacecraft lands, it will be another three weeks until work can continue, while Warner and his team determine the best place near InSight to plant those exterior instruments.

InSight will run three experiments: digging into the surface of Mars and measuring quakes, measuring the temperature radiating from its core to reveal how a planet cools over time, and measuring the rotation rate of Mars.