NASA is gearing up for the launch of its Mars-bound InSight lander from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California next month.
This will be the first time that a space mission will be launched from America’s West Coast. InSight stands for “Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.”
The InSight lander will be launched atop a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket, which is also in its final stage of completion at Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex-3 (SLC-3). The lander is destined for the Elysium Planitia region located in Mars’ northern hemisphere. It will study the deep interior of the Red Planet to learn how all rocky planets formed, including Earth and its Moon.
This will also serve as the U.S. space agency’s first mission since Apollo landed on the moon in order to place the seismometer on the other planet’s soil surface.
Tom Hoffman, Project Manager for NASA’s InSight mission from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said that in clear skies, the InSight launch should be viewable to people living in Southern California.
The Insight lander is currently stationed in a “clean room” at the Astrotech Space Operations’ facility at North Vandenberg to avoid any harmful bacterial contamination. NASA and the Lockheed Martin team will attach the full spacecraft to payload adapter and payload fairing and then transport the lander to SLC-3.
The InSight lander will have a suite of sensitive instruments on board that will help to gather data. These instruments will require a stationary lander from which they can carefully be placed on and below the Martian surface.
The launch will take place on May 5 during a two-hour launch window opening at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT; 1105 GMT). The lander is planned to arrive on Mars on Nov. 26.