Vandenberg AFB, California, USA: The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, NASA, launched its InSight spacecraft, “the first mission dedicated to understanding the internal structure of Mars”, from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, Saturday morning – atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.
The lander is looking to study the interior of the red planet.
The spacecraft’s trip to Mars will last approximately seven months and cover some 301 million miles, with arrival in the Elysium Planitia region of the red planet in late November.
After its arrival to Mars, the lander will begin a two-year experiment designed to enhance scientists’ understanding of Mars’ deeper interior.
The lander will dig deeper into Mars than ever before — nearly 16 feet or 5 meters — to take the planet’s temperature.
It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.
“This mission will probe the interior of another terrestrial planet, giving us an idea of the size of the core, the mantle, the crust and our ability then to compare that with the Earth.
“This is of fundamental importance to understand the origin of our solar system and how it became the way it is today,” said NASA’s chief scientist Jim Green.
Scientists say they hope the experiment will provide them with clues about what Mars was like in the past and if those conditions could have accommodated life.
Two briefcase-size satellites also hitched a ride on this morning’s launch and will make their own way to Mars, in an attempt to become the first-ever interplanetary “cubesats.” The probe is also carrying a chip with 2.4 million names from space fans, including “Star Trek’s” Captain Kirk William Shatner, who signed up to send their names to Mars.
The $1 billion mission to Mars involves scientists from the U.S., France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe.
“I can’t describe to you in words how very excited I am, to go off to Mars,” said project manager Tom Hoffman from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “It’s going to be awesome.”
NASA normally launches from Cape Canaveral in Florida – on the East Coast – but decided to switch to California for InSight to take advantage of a shorter flight backlog.
InSight is the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from the West Coast and NASA’s first Mars surface craft to lift off since the Curiosity rover started its deep-space journey in November 2011.
NASA officials have compared InSight — whose name is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — to a doctor performing a long-overdue checkup.