Sci-tech

NASA launches historic Mars mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base

NASA launches historic Mars mission from Vandenberg Air Force Base

In a twist, NASA launched the Mars InSight lander from California to take advance of a shorter flight backlog, making it the first United States interplanetary mission to launch from somewhere other than Florida's Cape Canaveral.

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

The Mars InSight lander was launched, in a first for an interplanetary mission, from California rather than Florida's Cape Canaveral.

It will also study tectonic activity and meteorite impacts, both of which could provide valuable knowledge about these events on Earth. It will use the seismic waves generated by Mars quakes and meteorite impacts to develop a map of the planet's deep interior.

"This mission will help us understand how rocky planets- those four inner planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars - how they were formed", the team leader explained.

"Previous missions to Mars have investigated the surface history of the Red Planet by examining features like canyons, volcanoes, rocks and soil, but no one has attempted to investigate the planet's earliest evolution - its building blocks - which can only be found by looking far below the surface". "This is an extraordinary mission with a whole host of firsts".

For scientists, one principal question looms over the work InSight will perform: How did Earth and Mars become so radically different, given that each was formed of the same intergalactic "stuff" about 4.5 billion years ago?

The InSight spacecraft is due to reach Mars on November 26, wrapping up a 301-million-mile (485-million-kilometer) journey with a fiery descent into the Martian atmosphere.

The first NASA mission that will look into the Martian interior is now on its way to the red planet.

Ignition on the Atlas 5 rocket carrying InSight to Mars. At 93 minutes into the flight, the unmanned spacecraft separated from the Centaur upper stage and is now on an interplanetary trajectory that will take six and a half month to reach Mars.

"Depending on where you are in Southern California you'll be able to see the space craft at various points along its ascent as it heads off on its way to Mars", Tom Hoffman, a project manager with NASA, said at a March news conference at JPL.

The spacecraft was designed and built in Littleton, Colorado. Several European partners, including France's space agency, the Centre National d'√Čtude Spatiales, and the German Aerospace Center, are supporting the mission. In December 2015, NASA announced it was postponing the launch to 2018.

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