“We don’t have the benefit of the astronaut to drill a hole for us,” she said, “so the HP-cubed actually has to hammer itself into the ground.”

This probe, affectionately nicknamed “the mole,” will send out a pulse of heat and then detect how long the surrounding soil takes to cool off. This will tell scientists whether the Martian soil is conducting heat or insulating.

“We’re going to Mars specifically to look back into the origin of the planets of the solar system,” said Banerdt. “If you really want to know about the very beginning of the planets, sort of the birth of the planets, what happens to them just in the few first tens of millions of years after their formation, Earth is not a very good laboratory.”

This is because, with its constant volcanic activity and plate tectonics, much of the early evidence of Earth’s formation has been shifted or altered over billions of years. Mars, on the other hand, is large enough to show some of the geological signatures of planetary formation, but since it’s quite seismically inactive, it makes a great place for scientists to investigate the evidence from its early formation.