This upcoming Saturday isn’t just Cinco de Mayo; it’s also the day that NASA plans to launch its highly-anticipated InSight mission so that it can make its way to Mars.
Image Credit: NASA
While SpaceX usually gets a lot of attention for sending probes into space, that won’t be the case this time around. Instead, NASA will take advantage of a United Launch Alliance-made Atlas-V rocket to lift the mission high above Earth’s atmosphere.
Citing one of NASA’s most recent public statements, InSight will become the first interplanetary mission to launch from the West coast of the United States – at Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. The rocket’s powerful engines will ignite at roughly 4:05 A.M. Pacific time on May 5th.
InSight is an acronym that stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. As you might have already guessed from the rather lengthy and descriptive name, the InSight mission will study Mars’ interior so that planetary scientists can gather more information about the red planet’s unique characteristics.
InSight could tell us whether Martian earthquakes (Marsquakes) occur, and what causes them. Furthermore, it may also reveal Mars’ internal temperature and illuminate details about the planet’s orbital wobble, among other things.
As it does all of this, the probe will also attempt to map out the red planet’s interior so that we can obtain a better understanding of the world that humans could one day visit.
Related: Does Mars experience Marsquakes?
The InSight probe itself won’t be alone when it takes off. NASA says two cubesats (collectively known as MarCO) will accompany it inside of the rocket’s cargo hold. MarCO will deploy near Mars, allowing the space agency to test new communication techniques with the potential to push Mars-based planetary science forward.
As always, NASA will live-stream the launch from its NASA TV web page.