JPL changes name of Mars mission proposal


The Jet Propulsion Laboratory today announced that it was changing the name of a proposed Mars exploration mission because NASA wanted the title for a project already in development.

NASA requested that the previous Mars mission name -- Geophysical Monitoring Station. or GEMS -- be reserved for an astrophysics mission known as the Gravity and Extreme Magnetism Small Explorer, according to JPL.

The new name, InSight, stands for a mouthful -- Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport -- but its mission is far loftier.

The Mars lander would pack a scientific payload that includes a thermal probe, seismometer and orbital tracking system. JPL scientists would use the tools to discover the inner composition of Mars to help explain the largely unknown story of the planet’s beginnings.

“We chose the name InSight because we would literally peer into the interior of Mars to map out its structure,” JPL the principal investigator Bruce Banerdt said in a statement.

But InSight may be a tougher sell after the Obama administration unveiled a budget proposal that hit planet exploration programs hard with $226 million in funding cuts. If approved by Congress, the cuts would be a blow to JPL in La Cañada Flintridge, where much of the Mars mission control work is operated.

Amid fears of mass lay-offs at the facility, NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said during a recent visit that he would try to keep scientists and engineers working on Mars exploration missions on the payroll.

-- Jason Wells, Times Community News

Twitter: @JasonBretWells