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Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on April 10th, 2018, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 19, Issue 6 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 19, Issue 6

Vandenberg to be site for NASA's next mission to Mars

By SPENCER COLE

Lompoc is used to rocket launches, but the upcoming one on May 5 carries considerable significance. That morning, United Launch Alliance's Atlas V rocket will blast off from Vandenberg Air Force Base carrying NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory's (JPL) InSight lander. The occasion will mark the first time America's space agency will conduct an interplanetary launch from the West Coast.

"Vandenberg was ultimately chosen because it had more availability during InSight's launch period," NASA said in a statement.

The destination? Mars.

NASA and JPL officials stated that InSight would study the "deep interior of Mars" and "teach us about the interior of planets like our own." The craft will also attempt to detect "marsquakes" for the first time with seismometers. InSight could also help scientists ascertain how Martian volcanoes formed. The craft includes a "self-hammering heat probe that will burrow up to 16 feet into the Martian soil and measure the heat flow of the planet's interior for the first time," according to JPL scientists.

Both NASA and JPL officials said the mission was a chance to travel to the ancient past.

"While Earth and Venus have tectonic systems that have destroyed most of the evidence of their early history, much of the Red Planet has remained static for more than 3 billion years," they stated, adding that Mars is a fossil planet in many ways because it "is just one-third the size of Earth and Venus" and "contains less energy to power the processes that change a planet's structure."

May's launch will also mark the first CubeSat mission to deep space. The two-mini spacecraft called Mars Cube One, or MarCO, are the size of a briefcase and will fly ahead of InSight on the way to Mars.

"Their goal is to test new miniaturized deep space communication equipment and, if the MarCOs make it to Mars, may relay back InSight data as it enters the Martian atmosphere and lands," NASA stated. "This will be a first test of miniaturized CubeSat technology at another planet, which researchers hope can offer new capabilities to future missions. If successful, the MarCOs could represent a new kind of communication capability to Earth."




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