TWO Scotland-based scientists are playing a key role in Nasa’s latest mission to Mars.
They’ll be assessing the data provided by the InSight lander, which landed on the Red Planet at 8pm Scottish time last night. 
The lander’s mission is to take a deeper look at our closest neighbour, and many of the insights it promises are set to be uncovered by a small team right in the heart of Scotland. 
Dr Axel Hagermann and Dr Nicholas Attree, based at the University of Stirling, will be working to make sense of the secrets below Mars’s surface. 

YESTERDAY was the first major milestone in InSight’s journey. It launched back on May 5, exactly seven years to the day after Nasa kickstarted the project. 
For the last six months, it had been travelling roughly 6200 miles an hour. Then, last night, having completed the 301 million miles to the Red Planet, we found out the journey had all been worth it. 

IN order to safely arrive on the surface, InSight had to first come through the “seven minutes of terror” – the time it takes to enter Mars’s atmosphere and gently land on the ground.
By 7:54pm, Nasa engineers were receiving signals from the probe indicating that it had landed on the Elysium Planitia – a smooth, fairly unremarkable plain on the planet’s surface. 
This location was chosen as it was thought to provide an easier landing. Given that only 40% of Mars missions have landed successfully, the choice has proven to be a wise one. “As humanity, as explorers – we’re batting at less than 50%,” said Nasa’s science chief, Thomas Zurbuchen. “Going to Mars is really, really hard.”

THIS isn’t your typical Mars trip. It’s not so concerned with signs of life, soils, or atmospheric conditions. Rather, it’s designed to provide insights into how rocky planets work in general – how they are formed, how they develop, and the rate of their tectonic activity. This should give us a sense of how Martian mountains, canyons, and plains are formed. It’s the world’s first probe to study the deep interior of a planet that isn’t Earth. The HP3 probe will dig a whole 15 times deeper than any probe has ever dug before, over about 
30 days.

NOW the landing is out of the way, the HP3 probe will be investigating the 4.5 billion-year-old planet over the next two years. 
The focus of this mission is on the interior, collecting information from up to 16 feet below the planet’s surface.
Data will be collected on the seismology, temperature, and radioactivity of the planet’s crust, including on the flow of heat from its core. As on Earth, these heat flows are the cause of geological developments on the planet’s surface, as the energy from these deep thermal reactions moves the tectonic plates above. 

BACK on planet Earth, Hagermann and Attree are working with teams from 10 countries across the globe to understand the data collected. Understandably, they’re pretty thrilled to be working on the project.
“It is exciting to be involved in the Nasa InSight mission,” said Hagermann, associate professor of Biological and Environmental Sciences. The successful landing was “a milestone in this major project,” he added.
 “Our team will measure the heat coming through the surface of Mars, as well as the level of heat retained. We will also look at the physical properties of the crust, its thermal conductivity and the level of radioactive elements within it.”

THE University of Stirling’s scientific credentials aside, Scotland’s space industry is booming. Glasgow produces more small satellites than any other city in Europe, and there are talks that Sutherland will house the continent’s first spaceport.
To put Scotland’s growth into perspective, we now have six times more companies in this sector than we did five years ago.