NASA today blasted off its latest Mars lander, InSight, designed to perch on the surface ahead of eventual human missions to explore the Red Planet.
The spacecraft was launched atop an Atlas V rocket at 1635 hrs (IST) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.
The 993 million dollar project aims to expand human knowledge of interior conditions on Mars, inform efforts to send human explorers there, and reveal how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago.
If all goes as planned, the lander is expected to settle on the Red Planet on November 26.
Its name, InSight, is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.
After the lander settles on the Martian surface, a robotic arm is supposed to emerge and place the seismometer directly on the ground.
NASA chief scientist Jim Green said that understanding the temperature on Mars is crucial to NASA’s efforts to send people there by the 2030’s.
The spacecraft was initially supposed to launch in 2016 but had to be delayed after temperature tests showed a problem with part of the seismometer, which engineers have since fixed.
InSight aims to be the first NASA spacecraft to land on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012.