NASA

An old NASA logo hangs on a wall at the Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex in a 2016 file image. Space exploration was left relatively unscathed when President Donald Trump released his first budget request in March 2017. 

On Monday, Nov. 26, at exactly 2:45 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) lander successfully touched down on Mars.

NASA has called upon Virginia Tech professor Scott King and his team to help analyze the data found by the probe and conduct experiments with this data.

The landing marks a new age in the exploration of Mars because for the first time ever, we will be exploring below the planet’s surface. The lander, equipped with a special drill to penetrate the frozen Martian surface and various geological sensors and instruments, endeavors to find out more about our second-closest celestial neighbor.

To assist with the analysis of the lander’s findings, NASA has called upon teams of researchers around the country to help monitor data and conduct experiments. One of these teams is located right here at Virginia Tech. Headed by Department of Geosciences professor Scott King, the team hopes to find more information about the core of the red planet.

King has been a part of other NASA missions in the past, such as probes sent to the asteroid belt and other planets. The information from this mission includes the rotation, wobble and composition of the core, as well as other factors that could help give scientists more insight into the planet’s age and life cycle.

This data could be used to help explain some of the oddities with the Martian surface such as its large volcanoes, weak magnetic fields and the reason for the surface’s composition. Other teams will also be

studying the data produced by this probe and will be conducting their own experiments with the data.

The successful landing of the probe is itself a great accomplishment. According to CNN, only about 40 percent of missions launched to the Mars surface land successfully. This is largely due to the low atmosphere of the planet, creating little drag to slow down the landers.

To combat this, most modern landers, including InSight, use a three-stage process to land. The first step is to deploy a parachute as if the lander were going to land on Earth. However, this only slows down the lander so much, so rockets are used to further reduce the speed of the incoming probe. The final stage uses spring-loaded landing legs to absorb the remaining impact force.

The researchers at NASA and Virginia Tech hope that these new findings can help figure out the life cycle of planets such as our own and even give a glimpse into the origins of life.

Editor's Note: An earlier version of this article mistakenly said that the InSight lander touched down on Mars on Dec. 26 rather than Nov. 26.

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