The Mars InSight probe was due to blast off from the central California coast at 4:05 a.m. PDT (1105 GMT), creating a luminous predawn spectacle of the first US interplanetary spacecraft to be launched over the Pacific.
Once launched, InSight will coast through space for about six months before arriving at Mars in November. NASA's InSight Mars lander is scheduled for takeoff at 4:05 AM Pacific, weather permitting. Once it lands on Mars, InSight will become the first since the Apollo missions to place a seismometer on the surface of another planet or moon.
A MarCO cubesat waits in a clean room ahead of launch. It's the first ever mission to Mars launched from the West Coast. This will unlock clues about the size of magnetic forces around the planet and information on the size of Mars' iron-rich core.
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Understanding how much heat is flowing out of the deep interior of the planet, is the job of the heat probe HP, while RISE will help scientists work out how the deep interior structure affects the planet's motion around the Sun.
"Hopefully it will last a lot longer than that", said Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager from Nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
"Switzerland is once again part of a space mission from which ground-breaking results are expected", the Swiss government said in a statement. The InSight will send a hammer drill to penetrate beneath the Mars surface. "As soon as we're down we'll breathe more than a sigh of relief", he said.
It will be the first intransigent mission in American history to be launched from the west rather than the east coast of the U.S., thus breaking Florida's monopoly into space launches.
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It will take nearly six months for the craft to reach Mars.
And Banerdt says Insight is bound to provide some surprises.
The official countdown started on 4 May 10:14 pm PDT (Saturday, 5 May, 6:14 am BST.) An hour later, the 260ft-tall (80-metre) Mobile Service Tower - a structure created to protect the Atlas V launch vehicle and its InSight payload during assembly - began its 20-minute long, 250-ft (about 80-metre) roll away from the Atlas. There's also a pair of CubeSats hitching a ride to test how tiny spacecraft will perform outside Earth's orbit. To accomplish this, JPL had to design a radio small enough to fit in the cubesat yet powerful enough to communicate with Earth. "But I think for me the exciting thing is, what is it that's going to be a surprise?" And when will we start seeing the fruits of its labour? In the 2008 movie, WALL-E used a fire extinguisher to propel through space. The delay added $154 million to the cost of the mission.
Once on the surface, InSight will take interplanetary excavation to a "whole new level", according to NASA's science mission director Thomas Zurbuchen. And as cubesats and larger missions push deeper into space, NASA sees more private-sector companies getting involved.
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