Mars will receive a new visitor soon when the InSight lander launches early Saturday morning from California. NASA’s new lander will attempt to answer more questions about the red planet as it gathers data about the planet’s interior by measuring “Marsquakes.”
Unlike previous NASA launches, the rocket carrying InSight will blast off from the Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California at 7:05 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. Coverage of the launch will begin at 3:30 a.m. Eastern on NASA Television and its website. There will also be live viewing areas for those in and around Lompoc, California.
InSight — which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Heat Transport — is the first lander of its kind. It will use its sensors to take seismic readings by detecting ground movements. The instruments are so precise that it can detect movement in an area as small as half the radius of a hydrogen atom. The goal of the lander is to learn how planets are formed and what’s below the surface of Mars.
Hitching a ride with InSight will be MarCo CubeSats. These twin briefcase-sized satellites are not pertinent to the InSight’s mission. Instead, they will be their own experiment to see if communication between Mars and Earth can happen in minutes rather than hours and act as a “black box” for future Mars missions if they survive the trip.
NASA has had a hell of a time getting the InSight ready for its big mission. The Mars lander was originally set to launch in 2016, but various delays continued to set the project back. Delays also ballooned the budget of the mission to over $800 million.
A United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket will carry the InSight into space on Saturday. The lander will arrive on Mars on November 26.