NASA sent a Mars probe into space Saturday, the first interplanetary mission launch from the West Coast, and the first rover that will drill past the surface of the red planet.
The rocket carrying a robotic probe called InSight — which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — achieved liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base on the California coast shortly after 4 a.m. Pacific.
LIFTOFF! Humanity’s next mission to Mars has left the pad! @NASAInSight heads into space for a ~6 month journey to Mars where it will take the planet’s vital signs and help us understand how rocky planets formed. Watch: https://t.co/SA1B0Dglms pic.twitter.com/wBqFc47L5p
— NASA (@NASA) May 5, 2018
Most interplanetary missions launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., but the Atlas V rocket, built by United Launch Alliance using Russian-made RD-180 engines, is powerful enough to launch it over the Pacific ocean and then on through the solar system.
Assuming all goes as planned, the InSight probe will to reach Mars Nov. 26 at around 3 p.m. Eastern Time, where it will begin investigating what secrets the rocky planet is hiding beneath its dry surface.
Most Mars rover missions are searching for water, but this rover is something of a departure from that. A probe will take seismographs to map the internal structure of Mars, hoping to find, for the first time ever, whether the planet has quakes like Earth.
A drill a heat sensor 16 feet into the surface to measure whether there’s heat emanating from the planet’s core like the earth’s gooey magma center.
“The science that we want to do with this mission, the reason we’re going to Mars, is really the science of understanding the early solar system,” Bruce Banerdt, the lead investigator for the InSight mission, said. “How planets form, how rocky planets form.”
“I’m looking forward to making the first map of the inside of the planet,” Banderdt added.
The InSight is also equipped with two radio antennas that will help scientists track where, exactly, Mars is in relation to the earth, to study how the planet shifts on its poles as it rotates. This will help researchers determine how Mars wobbles as it spins and whether Mars has a solid or liquid core.
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