The Insight Mars Lander will help scientist draw the first detailed map of the interior of the red planet.
The Mars InSight probe lifted off from the central California coast at 4:05 a.m. PDT, treating early-rising residents across a wide swath of the state to the luminous predawn spectacle of the first USA interplanetary spacecraft to be launched over the Pacific. "NASAInSight heads into space for an approximately six-month journey to Mars where it will take the planet's vital signs and help us understand how rocky planets formed", NASA tweeted soon after the launch at 7.05 a.m. (4.35 p.m. India time). It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a high-tech seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.
"That's the real payoff of this whole mission and that's still lying ahead of us", said the mission's chief scientist, Bruce Banerdt of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Hitching a ride aboard the same rocket that launches InSight will be a pair of miniature satellites called CubeSats, which will fly to Mars on their own paths behind the lander in a first deep-space test of that technology.
The one billion dollar mission involves scientists from the US, France, Germany and elsewhere in Europe. "It's going to be awesome".
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NASA has set the Mars Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) on a 480 million km trip to the red planet.
Over the next six months, the spacecraft will be constantly monitored by NASA, making sure its solar arrays are in place, the ship stays on course and even make a few corrections to keep it on target till InSight lands on Mars on November 26. Only about 40% of all missions to Mars from all countries - orbiters and landers alike - have proven successful over the decades.
If all goes well, the three-legged InSight probe will descend by parachute and with engine firings onto a flat equatorial region of Mars - believed to be free of big, potentially risky rocks - on November 26. Unlike Earth, Mars hasn't been transformed by plate tectonics and other processes, he said. If all goes as planned, the mission will be operative for roughly two Earth years, or around one Martian year.
Meanwhile, a special transmitter on the lander will send radio signals back to Earth, tracking Mars' subtle rotational wobble to reveal the size of the planet's core and possibly whether it remains molten. California was always part of the plan.
Nasa normally launches from Cape Canaveral, but made a decision to switch to California for InSight to take advantage of a shorter flight backlog.