Mars InSight: Atlas V launching from Vandenberg with probe

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The spacecraft's two-year mission, led by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, is to investigate the interior structure and composition of Mars using a seismograph and special probes.

But even without plates, Mars on occasion rumbles-with Marsquakes, a geologic phenomenon that InSight investigators want to study.

In a pre-launch press briefing that took place yesterday, Tim Dunn, InSight launch director with NASA's Launch Services Program, announced that the Mars lander is "go for launch" and that all organizations have greenlighted the mission for its targeted launch window on Saturday. The Auxiliary Payload Sensor Subsystem (APSS) include sensors measuring the local magnetic field, wind and atmospheric temperature and pressure.

The region, which is so featureless it would normally make scientists glaze over, was chosen by Nasa as the most suitable patch on the planet for the lander to set about revealing how Mars is arranged from surface to core.

The spacecraft is looking for evidence of "Mars-quakes".

NASA's long-term goal is to send a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s. Only Earth has been studied in any detail.

"The InSight mission will provide glimpses into the evolutionary processes of all of the rocky planets in the inner solar system", according to the website.

SEIS is a dome which will sit on the surface monitoring motion underground, or by another name, marsquakes. Earthquakes that cause major damage are rated between 7.0 and 8.0.

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Studying how the seismic waves move through the crust, mantle, and core of the Red Planet could help us learn more about how the different layers are made up and how thick they are. For Mars missions, an ideal launch window happens only once every two years, so some flexibility is needed.

HP3 will take Mars' temperature as it burrows down almost 16 feet below the surface - deeper than any previous arms, scoops, drills or probes before it. 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.

RISE isn't a separate instrument but a clever use of the same equipment the spacecraft uses to communicate with Earth.

The lander itself is based on NASA's Mars Phoenix lander which includes a seven-foot-long robotic arm.

He'll be with the team not only to view the first interplanetary launch from the west coast of the United States but to take part in a science team meeting, when he will present findings of his recent work on the evaluation of soil thickness at the landing site.

Because the seismometer is so sensitive, scientists installed a weather station of sorts on the Insight lander.

Unlike the Curiosity rover, it won't drive around the surface of the planet.

InSight is scheduled to launch May 5 from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California on an Atlas V 401 rocket. "But you never know", said NASA project manager Tom Hoffman.

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