Nicknamed WALL-E and EVE from the 2008 animated movie, the twin briefcase-size spacecraft popped off the rocket's upper stage in hot pursuit of InSight, as elated launch controllers applauded and shook hands following the morning's success. The lander is based on the design used for the Phoenix Mars Lander mission flown a decade ago, with modifications such as a thicker heat shield and stronger parachutes to accommodate the faster entry speed of InSight and higher altitude on the Martian surface of Elysium Planitia compared to Phoenix's landing site near the Martian north pole.
Share this article: An artist's rendering of the InSight lander and its equipment on Mars.
This weekend, NASA is launching a machine created to study Mars at a much more fundamental level, helping to fill large gaps in scientists' understanding of the planet's geologic structure, composition and seismic activity.
It will take the spacecraft more than six months to get to Mars.
Banerdt said Mars is ideal for learning how the rocky planets of our solar system formed 4.5 billion years ago.
Speaking to CNN Bruce Banerdt, the principal investigator on the InSight team, said: "We have mapped the surface of the entire planet in terms of visible features, topography, gravity and magnetic fields".
The Atlas V rocket, which carried InSight, lit up the skies on lift-off at 4.35 am IST, and put the lander into a temporary parking orbit around Earth.
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InSight (Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), the first mission to explore Mars' deep interior, was launched at 7:05 a.m. EDT on May 5, 2018, from Vandenberg Air Force Base on a ULA Atlas V rocket. Although Earth and Mars are generally formed of the same material, scientists want to know why the two planets ended up different.
If the MarCO mission succeeds, it entails many such "bring-your-own" communications relay option for use by future Mars missions.
Scientists will try to use the frequent marsquakes over the course of the mission to deduce the depth, density and composition of the planet's core. California was always part of the plan.
NASA normally flies from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but made a decision to switch coasts for InSight because of a smaller rocket backlog.
The almost $1 billion Mars InSight probe blasted off shortly after 4 a.m. local time, roaring south down the coast to the delight of crowds gathered on beaches and church parking lots to watch in the pre-dawn darkness.
NASA's new administrator Jim Bridenstine, who has been in the job for less than two weeks, observed the launch on monitors at space agency headquarters in Washington.
"I can't think of a better way to start my day!"