NASA launches Colorado built InSight spacecraft to Mars to dig down deep

Sunday, 06 May, 2018

Besides InSight, the United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket gave a lift to a pair of mini test satellites, or CubeSats, that are trailing InSight to Mars to serve as a potential communication link.

InSight launched at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT) Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California.

"Humanity's next mission to Mars has left the pad!"

According to NASA, this unusual orbit was made possible by the relatively light weight of the InSight spacecraft to the capacity of the Atlas rocket. InSight will fire braking rockets to settle on a broad equatorial plain, kicking off a two-year mission listening for marsquakes and measuring the Red Planet's internal temperature. The landing location is Elysium Planitia and In SIght is expected to study the deep geology of Mars until November 24, 2020 when its primary mission ends.

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

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"We've received positive indication the InSight spacecraft is in good health and we are all excited to be going to Mars once again to do groundbreaking science". Right now we're in the boost phase of the Atlas launch of the InSight space craft. They are now traveling independently toward Mars, and will attempt to monitor Insight's landing.

The $993 million project aims to expand our knowledge of interior conditions on Mars, inform efforts to send human explorers there, and reveal how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago. "InSight connects science and technology with a diverse team of JPL-led global and commercial partners".

The lander has two main observational tools: a suite of seismometres that will feel for tremors (so-called "Mars quakes") and provide information that scientists can use to determine how the planet's core, mantle and crust is layered. Only about 40% of all missions to Mars from all countries - orbiters and landers alike - have proven successful over the decades. InSight is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The U.S., in fact, is the only country to successfully land and operate a spacecraft at Mars.

"I've been to several rocket launches, but it is a whole different vibe when there is something you've been working on for years sitting in the nose cone waiting to get hurled beyond our atmosphere", said Bruce Banerdt, the mission's principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The MarCOs were built by JPL, which manages InSight and MarCO for NASA.