NASA's Lockheed-built lander poised for long-awaited trip to Mars

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Another instrument, a nail-like device, is created to insert itself into the ground in order to measure the planet's internal temperature - the kind of information that can help scientists figure out what fueled Mars' ancient volcanoes.

"By comparing Earth's interior to that of Mars, InSight's team hopes to better understand our solar system".

Banerdt said the news that Mars 2020's heat shield was damaged during testing got his attention, but engineers soon determined the problem would have no impact on InSight. He said measurements of the Red Planet's wobble on its axis will help scientists determine the size of its core, its density and its composition. Sophisticated geophysical instruments will be measuring the red planet's metrics. NASA analysts are expecting to analyze around 100 earthquakes during the entire mission.

Saturday's tour of JPL was one ofseveral stops the vice president made to the Southland - the region in California between Los Angeles and the U.S. -Mexico border - over the weekend, according to NBC San Diego. Almost two dozen other Mars missions have been launched by other nations.

Scientists know water existed on Mars, with many thinking that billions of years ago, the planet might have had the conditions to support life. Quakes on Mars don't happen as frequently as they do on Earth, but they do occur and have been detected by previous Mars landers. But it will also be accompanied by two small escorts that NASA hopes will one day allow us to explore deep space on the cheap. Banerdt called those "handicapped experiments", joking, "We didn't do seismology on Mars - we did it 3 feet above Mars". While EM-1 will send the Orion spacecraft into an orbit around the moon, it will also carry 13 cubesats that will do everything from searching for lunar ice to launching the solar system's first space-weather station. For two years, InSight will stay perfectly still while the domed instrument listens to the seismic waves traveling through Mars.

InSight will launch from central California's Vandenberg Air Force Base.

The trip to Mars will be hard.

This mission is truly ambitious which is why its success rate rests at about 40 percent at the moment. The United States is the only country to have successfully landed and operated spacecraft on Mars. The most recent landing was in 2012, by the Curiosity rover. Results from the sensor should give an indication of how energy from within the planet drives changes on the surface.

And Banerdt says Insight is bound to provide some surprises. Scientists predict it will take seven minutes for the spacecraft to enter the atmosphere of Mars and then land on the planet. It will detect the planet's vibrations.

This Saturday, NASA's InSight spacecraft will launch from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, taking us somewhere we've never been: the Red Planet's deep interior.

The 1,530-pound (694-kilogram) InSight builds on the design of the Phoenix lander and, before that, the Viking landers. It has three legs, and will not be able to move around.

InSight's primary mission is for two years, but if all goes well it could be extended. One InSight instrument will dig 5 meters (16 feet) into the subsurface to measure heat from the interior.

"We've had lots of rovers in the last decade on Mars looking at the surface and the rocks on the surface", said Johnson, in a phone interview from Baltimore where she was attending a conference on Mercury.