NASA launches its next mission to Mars on Saturday

Solar arrays designed and manufactured by Orbital ATK-Goleta

JPL | Cubesat | MarCO - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Officially known as the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, InSight was derived from NASA's successful Phoenix Lander, which spent six months sat on Mars almost a decade ago, looking for signs of water in the soil before succumbing to the Martian winter. Another instrument, a nail-like device, is created to insert itself into the ground in order to measure the planet's internal temperature - the kind of information that can help scientists figure out what fueled Mars' ancient volcanoes.

The rocket could be visible up and down a wide swath of the California coast for residents from as far north as Bakersfield to perhaps as far south as Rosarito, Mexico.

Perhaps InSight will give scientists their first clues to the tremors of this far-flung world.

If you want to see it from the comforts of home in Santa Barbara, you have about a minute from when the Spaceflight Now website shows the launch, and when the rocket climbs above our western horizon, assuming a clear sky.

You can check out the embedded live stream above to watch the rocket launch as it unfolds.

This particular launch is a special one, since it would mark the first time a mission to Mars has flown from Vandenberg. (7:05 a.m. EDT/4:05 a.m. PDT) No matter the launching point, getting to Mars is hard. Coverage of the launch itself will begin at 3:30 a.m. Saturday.

InSights launch period is May 5 through June 8, 2018, with multiple launch opportunities over windows of approximately two hours each date.


All this, of course, will help NASA better understand the features of the geological activity of Mars, which in turn will allow scientists to reconstruct the history of the planet.

"Planetary science is it's just an incredible venue for getting people excited about science", she said, "because, no matter what, you always have handsome images ... and even for people who aren't as interested in science, there's always some technological thing that's really fantastic, like on InSight". Perhaps InSight will be able to answer some very important questions like why Earth is a habitable paradise and Mars is a cold and barren rock.

After InSight lands, it will plop its watermelon-sized seismometer-built by the French space agency CNES-onto the Martian ground.

InSight will ride atop an Atlas V-401 rocket provided by United Launch Alliance, located in Centennial, Colorado, which is a joint venture of Boeing Co. and Lockheed Martin Corp. DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument.

"It will be the first geophysical observatory on Mars", adds Ana-Catalina Plesa, a planetary geophysicist at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin.

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