InSight lander launch

Saturday’s launch of the InSight lander was NASA’s next step to learning more about the red planet.

It was a foggy Saturday morning at Vandenburg Air Force Base in California, which is the first west coast launch site NASA used for an interplanetary mission. At 7:05 a.m. Eastern, the Atlas V 401 rocket launched carrying the InSight lander into space for its six-month trip to Mars. InSight’s mission is to collect data from “Marsquakes,” heat flow from the planet’s interior, and how the planet wobbles.

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Launch of NASA InSight Mars Lander.

“InSight will not only teach us about Mars, it will enhance our understanding of formation of other rocky worlds like Earth and the moon, and thousands of planets around other stars,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at the agency headquarters in Washington, in a press release.

Unlike previous Mars missions that investigated the surface of Mars, InSight will look at the planet’s interior. Along with using its SEIS instruments to detect any ground movement, the lander could also provide some data that can help determine if the planet could support microbial life.

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Another view of the InSight launch from the NASA livestream

InSight is the first mission overseen by the new NASA administrator, Jim Bridenstine. Appointed by President Donald Trump, Bridenstine was sworn in on April 23. He was criticized for his opinion on climate change during committee hearings for his appointment, as well as a speech he gave on the floor of the House of Representatives demanding an apology to the resident of Oklahoma by then-President Barack Obama over his focus on climate change rather than weather forecasting.

The estimated arrival to Mars for the InSight lander is November 26 at approximately 3 p.m. Eastern. Once it lands on the planet, it will start collecting data for the next two years Earth years, or one Mars year and 40 days.

The MarCo CubeSats are also catching a ride on the rocket. These small satellites are on their own experimental mission to see if communication between Earth and Mars can be shortened from hours to minutes.