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NASA blasts off Mars-bound spaceship to study quakes

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VANDERBERG AIR FORCE BASE — NASA has launched its latest Mars lander, InSight, on Saturday designed to perch on the surface and listen for ‘Marsquakes’ ahead of eventual human missions to explore the Red Planet.

The spacecraft, launched atop an Atlas V rocket at 4:05am Pacific time (11:05 GMT) on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, marks NASA’s first interplanetary mission from the US west coast.

The $993 million project aims to expand human knowledge of interior conditions on Mars, inform efforts to send explorers there, and reveal how rocky planets like the Earth formed billions of years ago.

“This is a big day. We are going back to Mars,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine after the launch.

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“It is important for our country. It is also important for the world and it really establishes American leadership in a lot of ways.”

About an hour and 40 minutes into the flight, the spaceship separated from the upper stage of the rocket, as planned.

“I’m on my own now,” said the US space agency Twitter account, @NASAInSight.

“This marks the beginning of my six-month journey to #Mars.”

If all goes well during the 301 million mile (485 million kilometer) trip, the lander should settle on the Red Planet on November 26.

InSight is short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

NASA chief scientist Jim Green said experts already know that Mars has quakes, avalanches and meteor strikes.

“But how quake-prone is Mars? That is fundamental information that we need to know as humans that explore Mars,” Green said.

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NASA’s Parker spacecraft rockets toward sun for closest look

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CAPE CANAVERAL — NASA has launched a spacecraft to the sun which will fly closer to our star than anything ever sent before. The Parker Solar Probe rocketed away from Cape Canaveral, Florida, early Sunday.

The spacecraft is on an unprecedented quest that will take it straight through the wispy edges of the corona, or outer solar atmosphere, just 3.8 million (6 million kilometers) from the sun’s surface that was visible during last August’s total solar eclipse.

It will eventually stay comfortably cool despite the extreme heat and radiation allowing scientists to vicariously explore the sun in a way never before possible.

Saturday morning’s launch attempt was foiled by last-minute technical trouble and postponed by a day.

But what better day to launch to the sun than Sunday, as NASA noted.

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“Fly baby girl, fly!!” project scientist Nicola Fox of Johns Hopkins University tweeted just before lift-off. She urged it to “go touch the sun!”

“All I can say is, ‘Wow, here we go.’ We’re in for some learning over the next several years,” said Eugene Parker, the 91-year-old astrophysicist for whom the spacecraft is named.

It was the first time NASA named a spacecraft after someone still alive, and Parker wasn’t about to let it take off without him.

Thousands of spectators jammed the launch site in the middle of the night as well as surrounding towns, including Parker and his family.

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