Earlier today, the InSight lander arrived safely on the surface of Mars.
A robotic lander designed to explore what lies underneath the surface of the red planet, InSight looks to offer us our first real look at the interior of this tiny, distant rock. It may sound like an odd task, but it’s one of the first real steps we need to take before we fling ourselves across the vacuum to such a world; we need to know what’s inside. Liquid water, rare minerals, subterranean life… whatever it is we’re looking for under there at any one moment, it’s a critical part of the reason we’d even go to another heavenly body. We need water for fuel and air (split into hydrogen and oxygen), minerals to compliment those we’ve got in small doses here on Earth (like those used for high end electronics), and we’re looking for life simply because we need to ask where we come from (and if there’s anything else out there). It’s a blend of economics and curiosity, a compromise of the little questions and the big ones.
While those three items I listed are without a doubt some of the most important ones to speak of with regards to justifying a trip there, it’s also a good idea to note that the first two of those reasons listed (water & minerals) would be gateways to further trips and colonization. Water and the elemental components it can be broken down into via electrolysis are necessary for any space-based society to live without a constant supply from Earth or an Earth-congruous atmosphere, and rare minerals would go a long way towards allowing us to establish a manufacturing centre; a necessity if we’re looking to build anything useful while we’re there, or even effect proper repairs without that constant help from home. They’re two very important sources of supplies that would allow us to become independent in human-supporting areas, and the only way we can establish a colony which would survive without the constant shipping of everything needed from Earth. Things cost money, and many of the biggest costs in space have to do with shipping; if you can find the things you need nearby and mine them instead, you save a lot of money in transport costs.
So, while it may not seem to be the most exciting mission at a first glance, InSight will offer us some important insight into the interior of Mars; something we may be able to use in order to cut costs and make colonization (for scientific or other purposes) more viable. It’s a first step that we need to take before actually sending people there, and being that a manned mission to Mars is currently a goal for many space-faring companies it’s one that is probably long overdue.
Now that it’s officially on the surface, I’m a little excited to see what it finds – especially after watching National Geographic’s Mars series up ’til now. An aquifer of liquid water would kick ass, but anything that tells us more about what the planet was like or is like now would be a welcome consolation prize.
Don’t you think?