The Mars Science Laboratory (MSL, or Curiosity to its friends) has only been on Mars for seventeen days, but already the next martian mission has been named: InSight, the most recent Discovery class mission, will plant a probe six meters beneath the surface of Mars to give us our first knowledge on what happens inside Mars. Everything we know so far has been limited to what is visible from orbit, or can be sampled on the surface. InSight (Interior exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will carry instruments specifically to measure the shape and rotational axis of Mars, probes to detect seismic activity and subterranean thermometers to measure heat flow from Mars’ core. The competing proposals for this latest Discovery mission (which were beaten by InSight) included a robotic lander which would hop from point to point on the surface of a comet, and a robotic boat which would sail the liquid methane oceans of Saturn’s gigantic moon, Titan.
Created in 1992, the Discovery Program sponsors frequent, cost-capped solar system exploration missions with highly focused scientific goals. Previous discovery missions include MESSENGER (currently mapping Mercury) and Dawn (a robotic asteroid explorer, which has just finished studying Vesta and will soon be heading out to Ceres)