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NASA's Mars InSight TAKES OFF in first interplanetary launch from California

05 May 2018

The launch is set for Saturday, at 4:05 a.m. local time, aboard an Atlas V rocket from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California, with a two-hour daily launch window.

Mars InSight, scheduled to land later this year, is the first NASA mission to study the red planet's interior-or, as the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) phrases it, "the vital signs of Mars".

The Atlas V 401 rocket also carried two suitcase-size spacecraft, created to orbit Mars, as it blasted into the dark and cloudy sky, which turned bright gold for seconds as the rocket ascended in a plume of smoke.

"MarCO-A and B are our first and second interplanetary CubeSats created to monitor InSight for a short period around landing, if the MarCO pair makes it to Mars", said Jim Green, director of NASA's planetary science division.

NASA has launched its latest mission to Mars.

This was the 10 Mars launch on an Atlas rocket, and the fourth by the Atlas V following the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2005, the Curiosity rover in 2011 and the MAVEN orbiter in 2013.

The launch marked the first interplanetary mission to start off from the US West Coast in California. The launch was carried out using the Atlas rocket. The lander is based on the design used for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission flown a decade ago, with modifications such as a thicker heat shield and stronger parachutes to accommodate the faster entry speed of InSight and higher altitude on the Martian surface of Elysium Planitia compared to Phoenix's landing site near the Martian north pole. The InSight instrument will be on the ground and is expected to yield much more insight into the quakes, which are thought to be smaller than 6.0 on the Richter scale, given that Mars doesn't have the same plate structure as Earth. But it does have a 7.8-foot-long (2.4-meter) robotic arm.

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An artist's impression of the InSight lander on Mars.

The mission's principal investigator, Bruce Banerdt, told CNN he thinks InSight will fill the last gaping hole in NASA's exploration of Mars, some 75 million miles (121 kilometers) from Earth.

Once settled, the solar-powered InSight will spend two years - approximately one Martian year - plumbing the depths of the planet's interior for clues to how Mars took form and the origins of the Earth and other rocky planets.

The lander is equipped with a seismometer for measuring Marsquakes, a self-hammering probe for burrowing beneath the surface, and a radio system for tracking the spacecraft's position and planet's wobbly rotation, thereby revealing the size and composition of Mars' core.

NASA normally flies from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but made a decision to switch coasts for InSight because of a smaller rocket backlog.

Once out over the Pacific, the rocket headed south along the California coast.

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NASA's Mars InSight TAKES OFF in first interplanetary launch from California