NASA Launches Latest Mission To Mars
NASA has launched its latest mission to Mars.
The mission will study the deep interior of the Red Planet to learn more about how rocky planets like Earth and Mars are formed.
The InSight lander is carrying equipment that can detect Marsquakes and measure the flow of heat from the centre of the planet.
After travelling some 484 million kilometres, the space-craft is expected to reach Mars in late November.
“I’ve been to several rocket launches, but it is a whole different vibe when there is something you've been working on for years sitting in the nose cone waiting to get hurled beyond our atmosphere,” said Bruce Banerdt, the mission’s principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
“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 mission is described as Mars’ "first thorough check-up since it was formed 4.5 billion years ago."
An artist's impression of the InSight lander on Mars. Image: NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
The InSight lander is expected to spend two years studying the Red Planet’s interior.
The French-built seismometer it is carrying is designed to detect the slightest vibrations from "marsquakes" around the planet.
Scientists expect to see up to 100 ‘marsquakes’ over the course of the mission.
It is also fitted with a German-made drill that can bore as far as 5 metres underground, measuring interior heat.
The rocket is also carrying a pair of miniature satellites called CubeSats, which will fly to Mars behind the lander.
Artist’s illustration showing the twin Mars Cube One (MarCO) spacecraft flying over Mars with Earth and the sun in the distance. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
The mission is launching from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
Usually, missions to other planets launch from the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida and fly east, over the water of the Atlantic Ocean.
Flying towards the east adds the momentum of Earth's eastward rotation to the launch vehicle's own thrust - but the Atlas V-401 rocket is powerful enough to fly south towards the sea from Vandenberg.
The United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas-V rocket with NASA's InSight spacecraft onboard at the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, 05-05-2018. Image: Bill Ingalls/AP/Press Association Images