NASA successfully launches new Mars probe

The Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars In Sight lander launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base as seen from the San Gabriel Mountains more than 100 miles away on Saturday morning. The In Sight probe is the first NASA lander designed entirely to study the

NASA has launched the Mars InSight lander from California, a stationary lander that will research seismic activity and the mysterious interior of the red planet.

Saturday's launch was the first time NASA launched an interplanetary mission from the West Coast.

It will take the spacecraft more than six months to get to Mars.

The lander also carries a probe that will burrow 16 feet into the ground in order to measure the amount of heat flowing upward, providing additional data about the innards of Mars. It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a high-tech seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.

"Hopefully it will last a lot longer than that", said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We are going back to Mars", said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine after the launch. Only about 40% of all missions to Mars from all countries - orbiters and landers alike - have proven successful over the decades.

Once on the surface, InSight will begin deploying its primary instruments.

"This is my fifth Mars project, this is my fifth launch and it's nearly feels like the delivery of a baby - it's always different", said Ashitey Trebi-ollennu, Instrument Deployment System Lead for NASA.

The solar and battery-powered lander is created to operate for 26 Earth months, or one year on Mars, a period in which it is expected to pick up as many as 100 quakes.

InSight's chief scientist, Bruce Banerdt of JPL, said Mars is ideal for learning how the rocky planets of our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago. If all goes as planned, the mission will be operative for roughly two Earth years, or around one Martian year.

By studying how seismic waves pass through the different layers of the planet (the crust, mantle and core), scientists can deduce the depths of these layers and what they're made of.

"InSight, for seismologists, will really be a piece of history, a new page of history", said the Paris Institute of Earth Physics' Philippe Lognonne, lead scientist of the InSight seismometer.

"NASA requested this support because at this time of year the southern hemisphere has very good visibility of the trajectory to Mars, and by extension the NASA DSN stations at Madrid and Goldstone have poor visibility to no visibility in the early days after launch, which leaves only its remaining DSN station at Canberra".

The spacecraft was initially supposed to launch in 2016 but was delayed after temperature tests showed a problem with part of the seismometer, which engineers have since fixed.

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