NASA launching spacecraft to Mars from Vandenberg Air Force Base

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. (KABC) -- NASA is headed back to Mars! The InSight spacecraft is scheduled to rocket away from Vandenberg Air Force Base early Saturday morning.

This could be a great show for Southern California residents. It's the first ever mission to Mars launched from the West Coast.

If you are willing to get up early, you could have a front row seat and witness the rocket soaring overhead.

"When it takes off, it's going to go straight south, right by L.A., you know, millions of people, please get up and watch this beautiful launch. It'll be early, like 4:05 in the morning," said Jim Green with NASA.

If everything goes according to plan, the Mars InSight's lander should touch down on the red planet in about six months. The journey is about 301 million miles, according to NASA.

"We arrive the Monday after Thanksgiving at Mars. So, on Cyber Monday, InSight will be touching down on the surface of Mars. So you can have your shopping on one screen, and our landing on the other screen," said a NASA official.

The InSight's probe is designed to study seismic activity on Mars and measure "marsquakes." This information can help us understand earthquakes here on Earth.

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"We use seismology to take the pulse of Mars. We have a heat-flow probe that's going to measure its temperature, and we also do Geodesy to see how Mars wobbles as it spins around on its axis," the official added.

When the launch window opens at 4:05 a.m. Saturday, it will last for two hours, meaning that the launch can take place any time during that period.

The $1 billion U.S.-European mission is the first dedicated to studying the innards of Mars. By probing Mars' insides, scientists hope to better understand how the red planet - any rocky planet, including our own- formed 4.5 billion years ago.

In another first for the mission, a pair of briefcase-size satellites will launch aboard InSight, break free after liftoff, then follow the spacecraft for six months all the way to Mars. They won't stop at Mars, just fly past. The point is to test the two CubeSats as a potential communication link with InSight as it descends to the red planet on Nov. 26.

These Mars-bound cubes are nicknamed WALL-E and EVE after the animated movie characters. That's because they're equipped with the same type of propulsion used in fire extinguishers to expel foam. In the 2008 movie, WALL-E used a fire extinguisher to propel through space.

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NASA is set to launch two small satellites named after the beloved main characters from the 2008 Pixar film "WALL-E."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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