“This is a big day. We’re going back to Mars,” said one NASA official, presiding over this morning’s launch of the first Mars surface craft to lift off since 2011. CNN reports:
The Atlas V 401 rocket also carried two suitcase-size spacecraft, designed to orbit Mars, as it blasted into the dark and cloudy sky, which turned bright gold for seconds as the rocket ascended in a plume of smoke… After a six-month journey, if it all goes as planned, InSight — whose name is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — will touch down just north of the Martian equator on November 26, joining five other NASA spacecraft operating on and above Mars.
The 790-pound (358-kilogram) probe will then begin its two-year science mission to seek the “fingerprints” of the processes that formed the rocky planets of the solar system. It will measure the planet’s “vital signs: ‘its “pulse’ (seismology), ‘temperature’ (heat flow) and ‘reflexes’ (precision tracking),” according to NASA. The explorer doesn’t have wheels, so it can’t roll around gathering up dirt to study. But it does have a 7.8-foot-long (2.4-meter) robotic arm. The arm will place a seismometer on the ground to detect “marsquakes” (think earthquakes, but on Mars, of course). InSight also will burrow 10 to 16 feet into the crust of Mars, going 15 times deeper than any previous Martian mission, according to NASA.
The rocket is carrying two briefcase-sized satellites (named Wall-E and Eva) which will demonstrate that cubesats can survey journeys to other planets.
Two microchips have also been affixed to the lander carrying the names of 2.4 million space enthusiasts — including William Shatner.
Read more of this story at Slashdot.