Published: Sun, May 06, 2018
Research | By Wilma Wheeler

NASA launches InSight Lander to probe Red Planet

NASA launches InSight Lander to probe Red Planet

NASA's InSight spacecraft is on its way to Mars after a predawn launch off California's Central Coast. The first interplanetary mission ever to depart from the US West Coast, drew pre-dawn crowds to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

If the 483-million kilometer (300-million mile) trip to Mars goes smoothly, the InSight probe will arrive in the red planet in about six months and join five other NASA spacecraft studying Mars. Mars' north pole wobbles as the planet travels around the sun, and that will affect the time it takes for radio signals to travel back and forth between InSight and Earth. It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a high-tech seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.

An image released by NASA just before the launch.

NASA has moved a step closer to learning about the interior of Mars with the successful lift-off here on Saturday of a new probe.

Hitching a ride aboard the same rocket that launches InSight will be a pair of miniature satellites called CubeSats, which will fly to Mars on their own paths behind the lander in a first deep-space test of that technology. Only about 40 percent of all missions to Mars from all countries - orbiters and landers alike - have proven successful over the decades.

If all goes well, the three-legged InSight probe will descend by parachute and with engine firings onto a flat equatorial region of Mars - believed to be free of big, potentially risky rocks - on November 26.

Once on the surface, InSight will begin deploying its primary instruments. Seismic waves can give scientists a good idea of what a planet is made of.

"This is of fundamental importance for us to understand the origin of our solar system and how it became the way it is today".

Nasa has launched a spacecraft to land on Mars and explore the mysterious insides of the red planet. Its expected to operate for about two years.

But the quakes do allow for similar studies of the Martian interior.

"InSight will not only teach us about Mars, it will enhance our understanding of formation of other rocky worlds like Earth and the Moon, and thousands of planets around other stars", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington.

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