NASA sets sights on Mars with historic InSight launch

NASA is set to make history when it launches its InSight Mars lander on May 5.

InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport) will be the first spacecraft to launch to another planet from the West Coast when it blasts off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Central California. The launch at Vandenberg’s Space Launch Complex-3 is scheduled for 7:05 a.m. EDT on May 5.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas v 401 rocket will send InSight on its 7-month journey to Mars. The unmanned spacecraft, which is built by Lockheed Martin, is expected to land on the Red Planet on Nov. 26, 2018.

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The mission, which is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, will provide scientists with a wealth of data.

NASAInSight

llustration of NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight)  (NASA)

“InSight will be the first mission to peer deep beneath the Martian surface, studying the planet's interior by measuring its heat output and listening for marsquakes, which are seismic events similar to earthquakes on Earth,” explained NASA, in a statement. “It will use the seismic waves generated by marsquakes to develop a map of the planet’s deep interior. The resulting insight into Mars’ formation will help us better understand how other rocky planets, including Earth, were and are created.”

InSight had originally been scheduled to blast off in March 2016, although NASA suspended its launch preparations when a vacuum leak was found in the craft’s prime science instrument.

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Mars looms ever larger in America’s space future.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. However, former astronaut Buzz Aldrin thinks that a slightly later target date of 2040 is more realistic. In an interview in 2016, the Gemini 12 and Apollo 11 astronaut told Fox News that by 2040, astronauts could have visited Mars’ moon Phobos, which could serve as a sort of stepping stone to the Red Planet.

Other NASA missions to Mars are also planned, although the heat shield for the agency’s 2020 Mars Rover recently cracked during tests. Officials say that the incident won’t affect the mission’s 2020 launch date, according to Space.com. The six-wheeled robot is expected to arrive on Mars in 2021.

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Earlier this year, NASA announced a project to build robotic bees capable of flying on Mars.

NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter recently celebrated 12 years at the Red Planet.

Private space company SpaceX is also working to reach Mars. Speaking at the South by Southwest festival earlier this year, SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that he expects to see test flights of the firm’s Mars spacecraft next year.

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SpaceX plans to use its upcoming BFR rocket system for unmanned cargo missions to Mars by 2022. “The objectives for the first mission will be to confirm water resources and identify hazards along with putting in place initial power, mining, and life support infrastructure,” explains SpaceX, on its website.

A second mission, carrying cargo and crew, is targeted for 2024, with the primary objectives of building a propellant depot and preparing for future crew flights, according to SpaceX. The ships from the initial missions will be used to build a Mars base, it said.

Fox News’ Chris Ciaccia contributed to the article. Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers