Is NASA’s InSight Mission really that effective?

Aayushya Agarwal ’20

At the beginning of December 2018, NASA successfully landed its InSight mission to the planet Mars. Launched in May 2018, the satellite successfully touched down on Mars six months later. Many raveled about the successful feat of landing a satellite on Mars for the first time in many years. This landing was especially celebrated, as it involved a satellite that can take more extensive pictures of the planet and is more robust to deal with the extreme conditions of Mars; however, the real question should be why people commemorate such a feat. Shouldn’t people call into question the amount of money and lives space missions like these have cost in the past? Are we truly making progress on these missions?

Landing on Mars is definitely an accomplishment that we all should acknowledge. With advanced satellites settling on the planet, scientists can depict newer aspects of the planet that have not been discovered in the past. One example is whether Mars is suitable for humans and other living things to live on the planet. The InSight mission could lead a process similar to that of the moon. Before NASA landed the spacecraft on the moon for the first time, NASA launched a countless number of satellites to discover various components of Mars and to ensure it would be safe for astronauts. Likewise, these satellites will continue providing newer types of information, which could ultimately lead to the first footstep on Mars as well. Additionally, the satellites help scientists to identify how planets like Mars are shaped in terms of size, thickness, density, and overall structure. For the first time, the InSight satellite will be providing data regarding Mars that could help scientists to understand if there are any seismic activities, to measure the rate of heat flow in the interior of the planet, to determine whether the planet’s core is solid or liquid, as well as  the size of the core. It is obvious that a financial limit should exist for this mission; but the question is, what should it be?

Originally planned to launch in March 2016, the InSight mission was delayed for two years due to particular system failures. One would argue that it is reasonable to delay the launch since it would be an enormous waste of money to launch a satellite that is nowhere close to being ready. However, after comparing the initial and final costs of the mission, the delay does not make sense. When the satellite was supposed to launch in March 2016, the cost was $675 million U.S. dollars. After the two year delay, however, the cost of the mission rose to a total of $830 million U.S. dollars. While this could seem justified as one could assume that NASA has updated technological components of the InSight satellite, which delayed the launch for two years and increased the cost, it turns out NASA reused the technology from the Mars Phoenix lander, a spacecraft that launched to Mars in 2008. NASA claims that it made this decision to further reduce the cost of the mission and prevent the total cost from exceeding millions. Re-using an outdated technology from missions ten years ago, however, could impact the effectiveness of the InSight mission in the present. Therefore, we as a society should ask why the cost of the mission increased while older technology continues to be used for the mission. If NASA wants to reduce its budget as a whole, then it should completely use older technology, rather than choosing specific components although it would significantly impact the outcome; however, NASA has chosen the more complicated way that is not only more expensive but also less efficient and effective.

Ultimately, rather than commemorating the newest advancements to Mars, we should assess the financial implications of these missions and question whether its costs are reasonable and are being coherently used for the mission.