NASA will send a unique expedition to Mars

Orbital ATK employees wearing protective clothing

This artist's concept from August 2015 depicts NASA's InSight Mars lander fully deployed for studying the deep interior of Mars. JPL Director Michael Watkins led Pence; his wife, Karen; and their daughter Charlotte on a private tour of several facilities, including the mission control building and the "Mars Yard", an outdoor facility that mimics the Martian terrain.

InSight will be the first mission to study deep beneath the Martian surface, while also peering into the planet's interior and measuring its heat output as well as listening for marsquakes, that are seismic events said to be similar as earthquakes on Earth.

Mars no longer hosts tectonic or volcanic activity, but it is still cooling and shrinking, a process scientist believe causes quakes.

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InSight will also use its radio system to measure the wobble of Mars' north pole to help scientists learn more about the shape of the planet. InSights 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. The InSight mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program which is managed by the agency's Marshall Space Flight Center situated in Huntsville, Alabama.

"For those Southern Californians who are interested in rockets or space exploration, or have insomnia, we hope to put on a great show this Saturday", said InSight project manager Tom Hoffman, who is from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory situated in Pasadena, California. 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. All being well, it's due to land on 26 November. Measuring nearly 16 feet, the probe will help scientists track the flow of heat through Mars' interior. The U.S.is the only country to have successfully landed and operated spacecraft on Mars, including the first time in 1976 (Vikings) and most recently in 2012 with the Curiosity rover. For Mars missions, an ideal launch window happens only once every two years, so some flexibility is needed. Two suitcase-size spacecraft will be launched on the same rocket.

Combined with the seismometer's observations, the probe's data could help scientists understand where Mars sits on the evolutionary timeline of rocky planets.

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"We have a do-no-harm philosophy for secondary payloads", Messer said.

The Vandenberg launch window will open at 7:05 a.m. EDT Saturday, though 30th Space Wing forecasters say there's only a 20 percent chance of favorable weather as of Friday afternoon, with marine fog expected to roll in.

Even if you aren't physically in California to see the launch in the wee hours of the morning, you can still catch the high-flying Mars action live online thanks to NASA.

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