How the mission to Mars is starting in Littleton

Lockheed Martin is working on the vehicles that will be needed for a mission to Mars.

Lockheed Martin's Space Systems facility in Littleton is preparing for the next mission to Mars. 

The InSight lander was assembled and programed by local employees. InSight is actually a backronym for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

InSight missed it's original launch window back in 2016 because of problems with the construction of its seismometer, which was being built overseas in France. Because of the alignment and orbit of the Earth and Mars, a suitable launch window only comes around every 26 months. The next opportunity to launch a spacecraft to Mars will be in May 2018. That is when NASA plans to launch to launch InSight.

Tuesday was a special day Lockheed Martin. All the family and friends of the employees involved in the assembly, programing and testing of InSight gathered to get a close-up look at the lander, and take selfies with it, as it sat safely in a 'clean room' behind a plexiglass barrier. 

“That’s one of the best parts of this job, getting to touch something that is going to land on another planet, and it’s really going to expand human understanding," said Scott Daniels, operations manager for InSight.. "Yeah it’s really an honor. It makes it exciting to come to work each day,"  

InSight will be shipped to California in February to prepare for launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in May. This will be the first interplanetary mission ever launched from California. 

After a seven-month space jump to Mars -- and an a nearly 3,000 degree entry through the Martian atmosphere -- Insight is targeted to set down on an area called Elysium Planitia, which is near the equator to maximize solar power.

InSight is not a rover.

It will spend the next couple of years, or one Mars year, taking measurements in the same spot.

Lockheed compares InSights mission to getting a checkup at the doctor's office.

It will take the planet's temperature with a sensor on the surface and a probe that measures its internal temperature.

Insight will get the planet's heartbeat using a seismometer. That will give us a better understanding of the different layers of Mars including its core.

And it will also be measuring the reflexes of Mars with a tracking sensor on top of the lander. With that, scientists will study the rotation and wobble Mars as it circles the sun.

“We’ve had plenty of missions that have looked at the surface or the atmosphere, but this will peer inside, trying to develop clues as to how it was formed and how it evolved," said Stu Spath, head of deep space exploration at Lockheed Martin.

Lockheed Martin said to not just think of InSight as a Mars mission, but an interplanetary mission.

InSight’s main goal is to uncover the origins of the terrestrial, or rocky planets of our solar system.  

© 2017 KUSA-TV


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