I couldn’t help but get goosebumps last week when I heard “Touchdown confirmed,” followed by the exuberant, emotional cheers from Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory as the television screen broadcast history.
I, along with countless other Earthlings, watched as the Mars InSight Lander landed on Mars.
The InSight, short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigation Geodesy and Heat Transport, had travelled almost 485 million kilometres.
Seven months of travel culminated in what NASA calls seven minutes of terror as the InSight entered the atmosphere of Mars.
That’s the time it took for the InSight to decrease its massive speed of 19,975 km/h to a leisurely eight km/h before gently touching down on our neighbour’s inhospitable surface.
The eighth NASA mission to land on Mars will stay for two years to study its ‘inner space,’ the deep structure of the planet by digging a hole five metres below the surface, boldly going where no one has gone before.
The goal of the InSight project is to study the process that formed the planet 4.5 billion years ago. The project will give insight (pardon the pun) into how the terrestrial planets of the inner solar system, including Earth, were formed, essentially checking the pulse of Mars.
Meanwhile, back on Earth, I was thinking about another couple of Insights, perhaps not as fascinating as the one that just landed on Mars.
The third-generation 2019 Honda Insight, in which I’d been economically tooling around town, was sitting in my driveway, awaiting another mission and triggering memories of the spring of 2009 when I drove a second-generation 2010 Honda Insight across Canada.
When Honda landed the very first Insight in North America in 1999, it boldly went where no auto manufacturer had gone before.
Introduced as a 2000 model, the Insight beat out the Toyota Prius by seven months as the first hybrid available to the North American market.
At the time, the three-door two-passenger hatchback with those funky back wheel spats, was the most fuel-efficient gasoline-powered car available in the U.S. without plug-in capability.
The wedge-shaped vehicle was small, light and streamlined and sure stood out from the crowd, for better or worse. Just before the end of its production run in 2006, the Insight won the RAC Future Car Challenge from Brighton to London, finishing the rally with a miserly fuel consumption of 2.9 L/100km.
The second-generation Insight was still wedge-shaped but designed to make hybrid technology more affordable to a wider range of buyers. At the time of its appearance in 2009, it was the least expensive hybrid available.
That year, Garry and I decided to check the environmental pulse of Canada with the very first Insight to touch down on Canadian soil, departing Mile 0 in Victoria, British Columbia, on the Pacific Ocean on Earth Day.
We would motor the 1.3-litre, four-cylinder, gas-electric Insight on a month-long 11,500-kilometre route across Canada, stopping along the way at environmental venues that showcased what citizens, communities and companies were doing to make a difference in reducing humans’ carbon footprint.
Between Mile 0 in Victoria and Mile 0 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, we checked out initiatives like the spunky socially-responsible Grade 3 Vancouver Island students who saved a marsh from destruction, an entire eco-village in Saskatchewan, toured Canada’s greenest zoo in Granby, Quebec, and visited a New Brunswick artist who makes beautiful art out of banished junk.
The second-generation Insight was a compelling vehicle then and the third iteration, the 2019 Honda Insight in my driveway is even more so.
Built on the Civic platform, the 2019 Insight is handsome and, in my opinion, better looking than the Civic. The wedge shape of the first two generations, that shape that screamed nerdy-enviro-car, is gone and the sedan, especially in its Touring trim, feels more mature and upscale.
A 1.5-litre four-cylinder gasoline engine that makes 107 horsepower powers the 2019 Honda Insight. Two electric motors allow the Insight to run about 1.6 kilometres on pure electric and produce 129 horsepower for a combined 151 horsepower at 6,000 RPM.
The switch from electric to gasoline is barely noticeable. That instant torque at take-off and when merging increases the Insight’s fun-to-drive factor.
Trunk space in the 2019 Insight, usually compromised by a hybrid vehicle’s battery pack, is the same as that of the non-hybrid Civic, thanks to Honda’s smart tucking of the battery pack under the rear seat. The rear seat is comfortable and spacious.
All the safety features you’d expect from Honda, like lane keep assist, adaptive cruise control, collision warnings, automatic high beams and traffic sign recognition are standard on the Insight.
The 2019 Honda Insight is a well-rounded hybrid that looks mainstream, because it is.
Between watching the InSight Lander touch down on our neighbour Mars, marvelling at human achievement in the realm of science, engineering and technology and spending time in the efficient 2019 Honda Insight reminiscing about cross-country drives, it’s been an insightful week (insert groan here).
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