NASA’s First Mission to Study the Interior of Mars Awaits Launch on May 5

This artist's concept shows the InSight lander, its sensors, cameras and instruments. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
This artist's concept shows the InSight lander, its sensors, cameras and instruments. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

All systems are go for NASA’s next launch to the Red Planet. The early-morning liftoff on Saturday of the Mars InSight lander will mark the first time in history an interplanetary launch will originate from the West Coast. InSight will launch from the US Air Force Vandenberg Air Force Base Space Launch Complex 3E, near Lompoc, California. The two-hour launch window will open on May 5, 2018 at 7:05am EDT — which is 4:05am PDT.

Live televised coverage of the launch will be available at

InSight, for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket. InSight will study the deep interior of Mars to learn how all rocky planets formed, including Earth and its Moon. The lander’s instruments include a seismometer to detect marsquakes, and a probe that will monitor the flow of heat from the planet’s interior.

The ULA rocket will carry the spacecraft over the Channel Islands just off the California Coast and continue climbing out over the Pacific, shadowing the coastline south beyond Baja California. InSight’s Atlas will reach orbit about 13 minutes after launch, when the rocket is about 1,200 miles (1,900 kilometers) northwest of Isabella Island, Ecuador.

This mission is scheduled to land on Mars — in the western Elysium Planitia region — on Monday, November 26, 2018, around 9am (EDT). A live stream of the landing will be available on that date.

InSight’s launch period is May 5 through June 8, 2018, with multiple launch opportunities over windows of approximately two hours each date. Launch opportunities are set five minutes apart during each date’s window. Whichever date the launch occurs, InSight’s landing on Mars is planned for Nov. 26, 2018, around noon PST (3 p.m. EST).

JPL manages InSight for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The InSight spacecraft, including cruise stage and lander, was built and tested by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver. NASA’s Launch Services Program at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida provides launch management. United Launch Alliance of Centennial, Colorado, is NASA’s launch service provider of the Atlas 5 rocket. A number of European partners, including France’s Centre National d’Études Spatiales (CNES) and the German Aerospace Center (DLR), are supporting the InSight mission.  In particular, CNES provided the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure (SEIS) instrument, with significant contributions from the Max Planck Institute for Solar Systems Research (MPS).  DLR provided the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Package (HP3) instrument.

For more information about InSight, visit

The InSight launch will be the first interplanetary launch in California, instead of Cape Canaveral, Florida. So, California is expected to have a good view of the launch:

A whole new region of the country will get to see an interplanetary launch when InSight rockets into the sky. On a clear day, the launch may be visible from Santa Maria, California to San Diego, California.

Weather permitting, InSight’s pre-dawn launch (4:05am PDT) may be visible for more than 10 million Californians without a need for them to drive to a special location. Just wake up early, check the InSight Website for assurance the launch is still on schedule, go outside, look at the western sky, marvel at the rocket’s flare as it travels southward, and cheer InSight bon voyage to Mars.


Source: D.C. Agle and Andrew Good (Jet Propulsion Laboratory & Dwayne Brown and JoAnna Wendel, NASA HQ)

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