NASA's InSight Lander has come one step closer to the Red Planet since reaching its launch pad, where final preparations for launch in May are in progress.
InSight reached Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on February 28 with a C-17 cargo plane, and a new video from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory records landing and unloading at Astrotech's payload processing facility.
The mission, whose name stands for "Interior Exploration with Seismic Investigation, Geodesy and Heat Transport", is expected to launch in a five-week window on May 5. InSight is carried aboard a United Launch Alliance into space Atlas V rocket. If everything goes according to plan, the spaceship will land near the Martian equator in November. [Mars InSight: NASA̵
Vandenberg has now conducted a series of tests to ensure that the spacecraft safely survives its voyage to California and can launch in May. After removing InSight from its shipping container, engineers and technicians will load updated flight software and conduct mission readiness tests covering the entire spacecraft flight system, associated scientific instruments and ground data system, NASA officials said in a statement.
InSight was built and delivered by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver. The mission will explore the deep interior of the Red Planet to gain a better understanding of the processes that have helped shape rocky planets such as Mars and Earth.
"InSight will be the first mission deep below the surface of Mars to study the planet's interior by listening to Marsquakes and measuring their heat output," NASA officials said in a separate statement. "It will be the first planetary spacecraft to launch from this west coast launch facility."
The lander will be equipped with a seismometer to detect "Marsquakes" – Earthquakes on Mars – and meteorite impacts. The seismic energy of these phenomena is used to study material deep below the Martian surface. InSight will also have a heat probe hammering about 16 feet (5 meters) into the ground.
The mission is expected to be one Mars year or approximately two Earth years. Data collected by InSight may prove useful for future manned missions on the Red Planet, officials said