A spacecraft that is destined for Mars arrived at Vandenberg Air Force Base on Wednesday for final processing in preparation for a March launch.
NASA’s InSight spacecraft was delivered from Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, where it was constructed, by Lockheed Martin. The lander, which will be the first Mars-bound spacecraft ever to launch from California, is set to be carried to the red planet aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V 401 rocket.
"InSight has traveled the first leg of its journey, getting from Colorado to California, and we're on track to start the next leg, to Mars," said InSight Principal Investigator Bruce Banerdt, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.
The InSight lander will be used to study the deep interior of Mars and is expected to help scientists better understand the processes that shaped the rocky planets — including Earth — of the inner solar system. It also is expected to aid in the understanding of how the planets were formed.
The craft is scheduled to launch between March 4 and March 30. Prior to launch, one of the mission's key science instruments, its seismometer, must be installed. That key piece, which was developed by the French Space Agency CNES, is scheduled for delivery to VAFB in January.
The 1,380-pound spacecraft, which consists of the lander, aeroshell and cruise stage, was shipped to the Central Coast aboard a U.S. Air Force transport plane in an environmentally controlled container, according to Lockheed Martin.
InSight's heat-probe instrument from Germany's space agency, the lander's robotic arm and the rest of the payload already are installed on the spacecraft.
InSight, which is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations Geodesy and Heat Transport, is the first Mars mission dedicated to studying the planet’s deep interior. The mission is part of NASA's Discovery Program, managed by NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
Along with the InSight lander’s instruments, it also will carry a microchip bearing the names of about 827,000 people worldwide who registered in an online "send your name to Mars" opportunity in August and September.
People who missed out on having their names sent on this mission will be able to sign up for a “boarding pass” for a future Mars mission at nasa.gov.