NASA successfully launches Mars InSight lander

This early hours of Saturday morning saw NASA successfully send the Mars InSight lander on its way to the Red Planet. Just after 4:00 AM Pacific, the lander was launched atop a ULA Atlas V rocket from the Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, marking NASA's first interplanetary mission to depart from the West Coast. The InSight lander will now make a six-month journey to Mars, where it will study the planet's subsurface.

Once it arrives on Mars in late November, InSight — short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport — will have a two-year mission of studying Mars' interior, including deploying probes into the planet's crust, measuring subsurface heat, and detecting Marsquakes.

NASA's goal is for the lander to get a better understanding of what's under Mars' surface and how the rocky planet was initially formed, hopefully shedding light on the formation of Earth. Mars is less geologically active than our own planet, which sees frequent earthquakes, meaning it's easier to study the process between its creation and current condition.

The rocket's main goal was sending the InSight lander into space, but it also launched two small satellites that are typically used to collect data in low Earth orbit. These CubeSats, however, are the first to go into deep space, where they will travel to Mars with InSight and attempt to transmit information about the lander back to Earth. NASA notes that the satellites aren't necessary for the InSight mission, but will serve as a test to see how far from Earth they can collect and send data.