ATLANTA -- NASA approved a new discovery mission to Mars which will feature the first extensive exploration of the planet's internal structure.
The Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, or InSight, lander will lift-off for the Red Planet on March 8, 2016 from Cape Canaveral and land eight months later at a sight along the equator.
NASA hopes the spacecraft will provide new insight into several key questions such as does Mars have a liquid or solid core, and to learn about the planet's internal motions including the Sun's effect on the fourth planet from our closest star.
"In 2016, we will be landing a static lander and the main purpose is to deploy a seismometer instrument to see if there are any quakes on Mars," Dr. Charles Elachi, Director of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at CalTech explained to this aerospace reporter on Wednesday.
"More importantly to use that signal from the quake to look at the internal structure of Mars, it's core and how does it compare to earth," Dr. Elachi stated as we stood outside on the campus of Georgia Tech. "So it's really an experiment to compare the internal structure of Mars with the internal structure of Earth and it's moon."
The geophysical lander and it's instruments will be built by both American and international aerospace companies over the next two years. Lockheed Martin Space Systems will build the lander while the German Aerospace Center will build the HP3 heat probe.
NASA's JPL will instruct the lander to drill down into Mars to take the first internal temperature readings of another planet.
"InSight has a drill which will go down about five feet to measure the heat flow," Dr. Elachi added. "How is the heat flowing on the inside of Mars and up to the surface?"
France's space agency is at work on a seismometer known as SEIS which will measure seismic waves inside the Red Planet.
The new lander will feature several cameras, including the first 3D still camera on another world. Dr. Elachi explained, however, all of InSight's camera will be in black and white.
(Charles Atkeison reports on science & technology. Follow his aerospace updates via Twitter @AbsolutSpaceGuy.)