California

NASA's upcoming Mars-bound launch from California will mark a historic first

An artist's rendition of the InSight lander operating on the surface of Mars.
An artist's rendition of the InSight lander operating on the surface of Mars. NASA/JPL-Caltech/TNS

NASA's upcoming mission to Mars will be a historic one from the moment it launches.

Kicking off a mission called InSight (because "Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport" is a bit of a mouthful), NASA plans to dig deep beneath Mars' surface for the first time ever in just a few months.

Also making history: InSight will mark the first interplanetary NASA mission to be launched from California, or anywhere on the West Coast for that matter. It'll take off from Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The launch appears ready to go for May 5, according to a Friday news release from NASA. It's scheduled for 4 a.m. PDT, with a two-hour window containing launch opportunities every five minutes.

Earlier, NASA gave a 35-day stretch of possible launch dates and times, from May 5 to June 8. As of Friday, NASA believes it is set for the first day of that window.

The mission will take off via a two-stage Atlas V rocket, which NASA launch director Tim Dunn called "the gold standard in launch vehicles" in the news release.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket lifts off Tuesday from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Liftoff was at 11:11 a.m.. The Orbital ATK CRS-7 Cygnus spacecraft is on a commercial resupply services mission to deliver

For those who'll be in viewing distance, "from as far north as Bakersfield to perhaps as far south as Rosarito, Mexico," and awake at 4 a.m., the rocket will be visible parallel to the coastline.

There will also be two official watch sites, both in Lompoc, and the launch will be televised at www.nasa.gov/live.

"It can put on a great show," Dunn said.

All previous international missions have been based out of Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The team behind InSight's launch, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is in Pasadena, Calif.

InSight will land Nov. 26, around noon, no matter which day the spacecraft ends up launching.

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