California is the Launch Site for NASA's Next Mission to Mars

NASA

NASA’s latest mission to Mars is scheduled to launch from California’s coast in May. NASA’s InSight, a stationary surface lander, will take flight from Santa Barbara County’s Vandenberg Air Force Base and will be the first spacecraft launched from California to visit another planet. Poking fun at this fact, project manager Tom Hoffman said “that he’s breaking up the East Coast’s monopoly on interplanetary launches.” One key factor in California getting the launch was the busyness of Florida’s Kennedy Space Center, which has been frequently used in recent years for Elon Musk’s SpaceX launches. By planning the launch for California, the NASA team was able to secure an extended 35-day launch period from May 5-June 8 with launch windows available every morning.

InSight is being sent to Mars with the simple mission of taking the planet’s “pulse” according to Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for the science mission directorate. The lander is equipped with instruments, including a sixteen-foot drill, to measure the planet’s temperature beneath the surface in the hopes of discovering more about the planet’s composition and core. Although Mars has less geological activity than Earth, InSight is also equipped to record earthquakes on Mars or “Marsquakes” as they’re known at NASA.

Scientists believe that gathering this data will reveal more about how Mars became a planet, and in turn could provide more information about the Earth’s formation. InSight’s principal investigator Bruce Banerdt explained that “one goal is to help planetary scientists understand how a “ball of featureless rock” becomes a planet that may sustain life.” Banerdt also emphasized the importance of the mission, stating that NASA “has been waiting for 40 to 50 years” for the information InSight will give them. Once launched, InSight should arrive to the “Red Planet” in six months and will collect data for 26 months, which is equal to one year on Mars.

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