NASA launches Atlas V mission to Mars

Orbital ATK employees wearing protective clothing

The InSight probe, a stationary lander, is headed toward the Red Planet by a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

The lander was launched by an Atlas V rocket taking off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California shortly after 4 a.m. local time. There were no serious technical problems during the countdown and dense fog at the launch site was not an issue. During the descent InSight will travel from a speed of 12,500 miles per hour down to 5 miles per hour within 6 1/2 minutes. Once InSight was flying free, a pair of mini satellites popped off the upper stage.

The rocket, which will reach Mars by November, is expected to land on a smooth plain close to the planet's equator called the Elysium Planitia.

During their work on the planet's surface, the probe will study the size, thickness, density and composition of the Martian core, mantle and crust.

It will also study tectonic activity and meteorite impacts, both of which could provide valuable knowledge about these events on Earth. Designed and built by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, MarCO will be the first test of CubeSat technology in deep space. The resulting insight into Mars' formation will help mission scientists to better understand how other rocky planets, including Earth, evolved.

After the rocket went beyond camera range, NASA telemetry data generated an impression of how the lander looks look travelling above the earth.

The latest seismometer experiment is France-led.

"This is really the heart of the InSight mission".

Initially the launch was scheduled for March 2016, but due to a failure of the apparatus the flight had to be postponed.

Video footage from the NASA launchpad, and some from a passing plane, gave an impressive view of the launch. "They watched the progress of the seismometer to make sure we were actually meeting the milestones". 'And we're going to go and observe it with our seismometer and with our heat flow probe for the very first time'.

It is also fitted with a German-made drill that can bore as far as 5 metres underground, measuring interior heat.

Because the two main instruments are provided by European agencies, about two-thirds of the science team are not Americans.

Scientists expect to see up to 100 "marsquakes" over the course of the mission.

Although fog prevented Banerdt from seeing the liftoff of the $1 billion U.S. "I think that probably generated some resentment in the community".

"I'm on my own now", the InSight Twitter page said. "I definitely want to strengthen USA representation on the science team", he said. CNES and DLR spent about $180 million on their instrument contributions to the mission, for a total mission cost of $993.8 million.

"But as exciting as launch day will be, it's just a first step in a journey that should tell us not only why Mars formed the way it did, but how planets take shape in general". The MarCO spacecraft are NASA's first interplanetary cubesats. Larger CubeSats are multiples of that unit.

If the landing is a success, InSight will be the first spacecraft NASA has landed on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012. The spacecraft will also demonstrate a thruster system whose propellant is a compressed gas, R236FA, used in fire extinguishers.

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