In May, NASA will launch a spacecraft to Mars– the first to take off from California and journey to a planet.
Officials primarily chose the Vandenberg Air Force Base due to the overcrowding at other similar sites, like those in Florida, over the past few years.
As Californian project manager Tim Hoffman said, the Kennedy Space Center in Florida hosts double the launches compared to Vandenberg. Using the Californian location “allowed us to more easily get a 35-day launch period”.
The spacecrafts, called the Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy, and Head Transports (InSight, for short), will land on Mars to gather information from the planet’s tremors and center in order to better understand the origins of Mars and Earth.
From early May to early June, NASA will send up the shifts during two hour periods each morning. The frequency of these send-ups is only possible at Vandenberg, which is significantly less busy than Kennedy.
Florida has held a monopoly on launches for decades due to its closeness to the equator, which allows Earth’s movement to help propel the ships through the atmosphere. The agency’s Jet Propulsion Lab usually uses a Cape Canaveral point for its robotic shuttles.
In this case, the large size of the Insight Atlas V rockets makes it possible for them to launch from California, as it is more powerful than the smaller ships used in the past.
“Most planetary launches have to go out of the East Coast because they don’t have all the excess possibilities that we have with the Atlas,” Hoffman explained.
Initially planned for 2016, the Insight’s take off was postponed due to mechanical issues. Californians from Santa Maria to San Diego will be able to see the May 5th launch in the sky at about four in the morning.
Insight’s construction resembles that of the 2008 Phoenix, but while its predecessor examined the planet’s ability to be lived in, the new craft will investigate its internal workings, such as the center’s size and temperature, and its earthquakes. Mars has held onto more of its early stage information than Earth due to its relative inactivity.
NASA’s associate administrator Thomas Zurburchen hopes that the mission will uncover more about how Mars, Earth, and other planets were formed.
The rocket will land on Mars roughly six months after its launch and will study the planet for a minimum of 26 months.