InSight, which is the first planetary mission that will take off from the West Coast, will be targeted to launch at 7.05 a.m. EDT (4.05 a.m. PDT) on May 5 from the Space Launch Complex-3 situated at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, US aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket, NASA said in a statement. But Odyssey will be in the wrong position to keep tabs on InSight, so NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory needed another solution. Once it lands later this year and starts sending back information about the red planet, we should have a greater understanding of the planet's make up and its history. The craft's seismometer will be deployed shortly after landing - the first seismometer to be placed directly on the surface of Mars. It will explore the heat flow of the Mars from deep inside. "Eventually Earth's convection will slow, so the InSight mission can help us predict what the future for Earth's interior looks like". It also will be the first lander on Mars since the Phoenix, which landed near the north polar cap in 2008.
NASA's next Mars explorer is going to have company all the way to the red planet: a couple of puny yet groundbreaking sidekicks.
"The major aspect to MarCO is that it is truly a technology demonstration and high-risk endeavor, very much in the spirit of NASA", Klesh says. It will be NASA's first interplanetary mission launched from somewhere other than Florida's Cape Canaveral. "And just this morning, we did the launch readiness review", Dunn said at the press briefing.
Listening to the mars-quakes. While InSight will be stopping at Mars on November 26, WALL-E and EVE will zoom past the planet from about 2,200 miles (3,500 kilometers) out. It must launch before June 8 in order to make it to Mars this year, otherwise it will need to wait another 26 months. The two CubeSats are also expected to phone home within minutes, cutting down on the amount of time traditionally required for a spacecraft to communicate with Mission Control on Earth. Luckily, InSight is a bit smaller than other landers, so ULA was able to use the four-meter Atlas V rocket, the 401 version, instead of the larger five-meter rocket. While it seems a relatively minor task for a mission that will span the vast distance between the Earth and Mars, it represents an important example of the utility of cubesats in deep space.
People lucky enough to be in California on Saturday might get a chance to see the rocket take flight in person.
"But for those who want to sleep in on Saturday, there will be another opportunity to engage with this historic mission". Live televised coverage will be available on NASA TV, and I've conveniently added the YouTube live feed at the top of this post.