NASA's Mars InSight is on its way to the Red Planet to explore the unseen interior of our neighbor and listen for "Marsquakes." The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket carrying the Martian lander successfully lifted off from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California at 4:05 a.m. Pacific Time on Saturday.

Mars InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, is NASA's first interplanetary mission to leave from the west coast of the US.

Liftoff of @NASAInSight on a @ulalaunch #AtlasV

β€” Massimo (@Rainmaker1973) May 5, 2018

The lander will spend at least two years "listening" to the interior of Mars as it measures the planet's subsurface heat and detects Marsquakes. The goal is to develop a map of sorts of the planet's interior and hopefully gain insights into the formation of other rocky planets, including Earth.

Now Playing: Watch this: NASA's next mission will study the heart of Mars 2:43

The Atlas 5 carrying InSight also carries a pair of experimental cubesats called MarCo and nicknamed "Wall-E" and "Eva" that will tag along to Mars. All three spacecraft took off on a southward path that carried the rocket over the Pacific Ocean, around the south pole and toward the other side of the planet before the rocket made a left turn toward Mars.

Though the rocket's ascent into space should've been visible from much of Southern California and even parts of Mexico, fog made it tough to catch a glimpse of the Atlas V without being above the marine layer.

Now Playing: Watch this: NASA's InSight Mars Lander launches from California 4:20

NASA Chief Scientist Jim Green said that though it was tricky to actually see the launch pad, there was no missing the moment of launch.

"We heard it, we really heard it," Green said. "Car alarms went off in the parking lot."

Still, some sky watchers and space nerds did manage to get up early and find a fog-free vantage point.

Good morning Long Beach, here's an Atlas V rocket to start your day. #insight

A post shared by Dalton James (@iamdaltonjames) on

@NASAInSight over @riversidecagov this morning.#NASA #InSight

β€” Kipp Smith (@kippsmith) May 5, 2018

It’s a launch, Jim, but not as we know it.
Despite being 4 miles from the pad with a direct line of sight, there was absolutely no seeing #InSight as it left Earth for Mars. Sound, yes, but otherwise nothing but pea soup. Eeriest and weirdest launch I have ever, err, seen.

β€” RobertPearlman (@RobertPearlman) May 5, 2018

At around 5:38 a.m. PT, Mars Insight, Wall-E and Eva separated from the Centaur upper stage engine of the Atlas V, and officially went on their way to our neighboring planet.

The Mars InSight lander itself was built by Lockheed Martin of Denver, but it carries scientific instruments developed as part of an international collaboration with space agencies and other scientific institutions around the world. It carries a suite of highly sensitive seismometers to detect Marsquakes and a special "mole" that will drill up to 16 feet below the Martian surface to take heat readings and help map the planet's "guts."

More from Mars

  • SpaceX will build Mars rockets on an island full of history
  • Hey, Elon Musk, what about toilet paper on Mars?
  • Trump makes 2033 Mars mission an official NASA goal

"It's been enormously challenging to put together such a small sensor with the performance we need to detect Marsquakes," said professor Tom Pike from Imperial College London, who was one of the leaders on a team developing the short period seismometer on InSight. "We've had the support of the UK Space Agency, and their considerable patience. Now we finally get to see our microseismometers leave the launch pad, next stop Mars."

InSight is scheduled to land on a broad plain named Elysium Planitia in November. Be sure to check out the full details of the Mars InSight mission in our earlier coverage and the video above.

Crowd Control: A crowdsourced science fiction novel written by CNET readers.

Solving for XX: The tech industry seeks to overcome outdated ideas about "women in tech."

Share your voice

Post a comment


Sci-Tech NASA Space