NASA is launching a new spacecraft to Mars, that will study the deep interior of the red planet to learn how all rocky planets and their moons are formed. This is the first time that a space mission will be launched from America’s West Coast, NASA said. Most of US’ interplanetary missions take off from the Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in Florida, located on the East Coast of the country. Consequently, a whole new region of the country will get to see an interplanetary launch when InSight rockets into the sky.
The historic first interplanetary launch from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California will take place on May 5. On board the 57.3-metre-tall United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket will be NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander, destined for the Elysium Planitia region located in Mars’ northern hemisphere.
The US Space agency's InSight lander will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all rocky planets formed, including Earth and its moon. The lander's instruments include a seismometer to detect marsquakes and a probe that will monitor the flow of heat in the planet's subsurface.
The United Launch Alliance two-stage Atlas V 401 launch vehicle will produce 860,200 pounds (3.8 million newtons) of thrust as it climbs away from its launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base. During the first 17 seconds of powered flight, the Atlas V will climb vertically above its launch pad. Then it will begin a manoeuvre that will place it on a trajectory towards Earth’s south pole, the agency said in a statement.
“After lift-off from Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex 3, the Atlas V begins a southerly trajectory and climbs out over the Channel Islands off Oxnard,” said Tim Dunn, launch director at the John F Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.
InSight’s launch period will run through June 8, 2018, with multiple launch opportunities over windows of approximately two hours each date. Launch opportunities are set five minutes apart during each date’s window.
Additional information on viewing the launch in person is available here. For live televised coverage of the launch, please click here. Whichever date the launch occurs, InSight's landing on Mars is planned for Nov. 26, 2018, around noon PST (3 p.m. EST / 20:00 UTC).