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NASA scientists are ready to launch an unmanned lander named InSight to Mars in order to study the naturally occurring marsquakes in the planet.

"Mars missions, especially those that deliver a lander to the planet's surface, are notoriously challenging, but our team of experienced propulsion engineers is up to the task", Aerojet Rocketdyne CEO and President Eileen Drake said.

The second key instrument is the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3), which is essentially a self-hammering nail that will burrow up to five metres below the surface. Another is a seismometer that will be placed on the surface by the lander's robotic arm.

But these vibrations, in comparison to Earth's, are very small. Hence the need for a smooth and quiet landing spot. But it remains to be seen whether the marine layer will hamper those hoping to watch Vandenberg Air Force Base's first mission to Mars. Its goal is to measure the geothermal heat coming out of Mars as a result of radioactive decay. As heat radiates away from the surface, the crust contracts and buckles. On Earth, geological movements over time have changed the planet's original makeup. To find the location of a quake on Earth, geologists would use multiple seismometers to triangulate the epicenter.

All of the Mars flybys, orbiters and rovers have beamed back a wealth of information, but so far, the robots have worked only at the surface level: sifting through dirt, blasting apart rocks, looking down canyons and hiking up mountains.

Finally, there's RISE, or the radio science instrument. Once it lands in Elysium Planitia near the martian equator, it will stay put.

InSight, which stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport, will be NASA's first mission to peer deep within the interior of Mars with a suite of instruments created to give the planet a thorough check-up from the inside out.

"We did a complete review of our heat shield documentation", Banerdt said in an interview with Spaceflight Now.

Seismic waves traveling past the crust, mantle, and core are an effective way of finding out more about Earth's layers and what it's made up of.

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"What they learn might even aid the search for Earth-like exoplanets, narrowing down which ones might be able to support life".

Technicians inspect the InSight lander's solar arrays before launch. For Lognonné, who has been trying to get a seismometer to Mars for more than two decades, that day can't come soon enough.

BRUCE BANERDT: 99.9 percent of this planet has never been observed before.

Preparing for the mission includes pre-project planning, science definition and instrument selection, landing site selection, assembly and testing, and delivery of the spacecraft to Vandenberg Air Force Base.

If the launch readiness review gives a green light to proceed, the Atlas 5 countdown will commence Friday evening, with retraction of the launch pad's mobile gantry scheduled shortly before midnight, local time. This is also the first interplanetary mission to ever take off from the West Coast of the U.S.

If you want to see it from the comforts of home in Santa Barbara, you have about a minute from when the Spaceflight Now website shows the launch, and when the rocket climbs above our western horizon, assuming a clear sky. The point is to test the two CubeSats as a potential communication link with InSight as it descends to the red planet on November 26.

"We are expecting visibility to be bad", she said.

SUZANNE SMREKAR: With our mission, we'll be able to finally get a look inside Mars.


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