Topics: Mars, NASA, Planetary Science, Space Exploration
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - After decades exploring the surface of Mars, NASA is set for the weekend launch of its first robotic lander dedicated to studying the red planet’s deep interior, with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings never measured anywhere but Earth.
The Mars InSight probe is due for liftoff on Saturday before dawn from Vandenberg Air Force Base near the central California coast, treating early risers across a wide region to the luminous spectacle of the first interplanetary spacecraft to be launched from the U.S. West Coast.
The lander will be carried aloft for NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) atop a powerful, 19-story Atlas 5 rocket from the fleet of United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing Co.
InSight will be released about 90 minutes after launch on a 301 million-mile (548 km) flight to Mars, and is due to reach its destination six months later, landing on a flat, smooth plain close to the planet’s equator called the Elysium Planitia.
The 800-pound (360 kg) spacecraft - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st U.S.-launched Martian exploration, dating back to the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s. Nearly two dozen other Mars missions have been launched by other nations.
Spacecraft for detecting 'Marsquakes' set for rare California launch, Steve Gorman, Reuters Science