Science

West coast's Mars-bound rocket launch may be blanketed in fog

West coast's Mars-bound rocket launch may be blanketed in fog

This artist's concept from August 2015 depicts NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. -European mission is the first dedicated to studying the innards of Mars.

Scientists are shooting for two years of work - that's two years by Earth standards, or the equivalent of one full Martian year. Mars doesn't have plate tectonics. By probing Mars' insides, scientists hope to better understand how the red planet - any rocky planet, including our own- formed 4.5 billion years ago.

Astronomers want to investigate the changes on the red planet.

Even the minuscule uplift of the ground caused by the gravitational pull of Mars's moon, Phobos, should register on its instruments. The Atlas V rocket, however, has the capability to deliver the InSight mission from California, he said, noting that it also gives ULA the opportunity to move off America's "more congested" Eastern launch range.

"It has always been a dream of mine to be part of NASA's space exploration program and I now get to do that while continuing my passion for geology and teaching at Geneseo", said Warner. The lander will take Mars' vital signs including its pulse (seismology), its temperature (heat flow) and its reflexes (radio science). One InSight instrument will dig 5 meters (16 feet) into the subsurface to measure heat from the interior.

Even if the launch date changes, the lander is still scheduled to arrive at Mars on November 26.

Previous Mars missions have focused on surface or close-to-the-surface rocks and mineral. Phoenix, for instance, dug just several inches down for samples.

Usually, these kinds of launches take flight from the East Coast due to the favorable rotation of the Earth, but the Atlas V is powerful enough to launch to the red planet from California. If a meteor impacts Mars during the mission's two year primary mission, SEIS could detect it as it rings the planet like a bell.

"Where we land is an intentionally tiresome place", said Neil Bowles, a planetary scientist at Oxford University, and one of a number of United Kingdom researchers involved in the mission.

InSight, the first interplanetary launch from the West Coast, is set to happen around 5:05 a.m. Saturday. "As soon as we're down we'll breathe more than a sigh of relief", he said.

The Vandenberg launch window will open at 7:05 a.m. EDT Saturday, though 30th Space Wing forecasters say there's only a 20 percent chance of favorable weather as of Friday afternoon, with marine fog expected to roll in.

"Depending on where you are in Southern California you'll be able to see the space craft at various points along its ascent as it heads off on its way to Mars", Tom Hoffman, a project manager with NASA, said at a March news conference at JPL.