Published: Sat, May 05, 2018
Research | By Derrick Holloway

NASA team talks upcoming Mars Mission in Santa Maria

NASA team talks upcoming Mars Mission in Santa Maria

Six years after last landing on Mars, NASA is sending a robotic geologist to dig deeper than ever before to take the planet's temperature.

InSight will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all rocky planets formed, including Earth and its Moon.

The launch window for the InSight mission - short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - will open at 4:05 a.m. Saturday at Vandenberg Air Force Base in Santa Barbara County.

The InSight mission is long overdue; NASA had to call off its original 2016 launch for technical problems. The InSight spacecraft, including cruise stage and lander, was built and tested by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver.

Besides testing the cubes' maneuvering system, NASA wants to see if WALL-E and EVE can transmit data to Earth from InSight during its descent to Mars. "We'd like to be able to understand what happened". It has a robot arm measuring 2.4 meters. The spacecraft was encapsulated inside the Atlas 5 rocket's payload fairing 16 April, then mounted atop the launcher 23 April. "It's looking good. We are all optimistic and very excited". It will mark its presence on the Mars surface until November 2020.

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Engineers are often reviewing hardware failures to ensure they do not affect other missions carrying similar components. Has that been implicated? The roughly five-week launch period is fixed by the positions of Earth and Mars in their orbits around the sun. NASA tried unsuccessfully with its twin Viking landers, which launched in 1975.

The launch window for the mission stretches into June 8, in case weather or technical issues force delays in Saturday's planned takeoff.

Insight will launch atop an Atlas V rocket, one of the biggest available to make the 301-million mile voyage.

Space boffins and enthusiasts can watch the launch live from California thanks to NASA's round-the-clock streaming on NASA TV and NASA's YouTube channels. Pacific Standard Time on May 5.

But if you can get a clear view of the early morning sky, you should be able to see the rocket as it heads up and to the south from Vandenberg.

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"I hope we can put on a good show", Banerdt said.

The fog, however, may not be enough to scrap the launch.

NASA's previous interplanetary probes have historically launched from Cape Canaveral, using momentum provided by Earth's rotation for a velocity boost toward the east.

Previous Mars missions have focused on surface or close-to-the-surface rocks and mineral. Phoenix, for instance, dug just several inches down for samples.

The lander will also deploy a super sensitive seismometer that can monitor tiny tremors of the planet's surface or "marsquakes".

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