Space

Vice President Pence tours JPL before launch of InSight to Mars

InSight, the first planetary mission to take off from the West Coast, is targeted to launch at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT) from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

InSight to Mars

A week before NASA launches its next mission to Mars, Vice President Mike Pence toured on Saturday, April 28, the birthplace of numerous past, present and future space missions at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The afternoon visit by the Vice President, his wife, Karen, and daughter Charlotte, included a stop in JPL’s Mission Control, where engineers will communicate with NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). The Mars lander is scheduled to launch Saturday, May 5, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. InSight will be the first interplanetary mission ever to launch from the West Coast, and is the first-ever mission to study the interior of Mars.

The Mission Control building, a National Historic Landmark, has served as a hub for communications with countless spacecraft since 1964, including some of NASA’s Apollo Moon missions, the twin Voyager spacecraft at the edge of our solar system, and the Cassini mission to Saturn. From here, Charlotte Pence had an opportunity to send commands giving the Mars Curiosity rover a day’s worth of science activities. The signal took about seven minutes to travel the 80 million miles to reach Curiosity, which has been roaming the Red Planet for almost six years.

Vice President at JPL

“We were honored to show the Vice President, who has a strong commitment to space exploration, some of our special sites and space missions,” said JPL Director Michael Watkins. “With JPL’s rich history, which includes designing and building America’s first satellite for launch in 1958, and with our cutting-edge scientific capabilities, we stand ready to advance exploration as we move forward into our revitalized space age.”

The tour included a stop at the JPL Mars Yard, an outdoor test facility that simulates the Martian landscape. There, the Pence family tried their hands at maneuvering a test Mars rover. They also visited the Spacecraft Assembly Facility, where the Mars 2020 mission hardware is being assembled. Mars 2020 will search for signs of habitability in Mars’ ancient past and signs of past microbial life.

The Vice President, who chairs the National Space Council, was accompanied on the tour by Watkins, JPL Deputy Director Larry James, Mars Exploration Program Director Fuk Li, Caltech President Thomas Rosenbaum, National Space Council Executive Secretary Scott Pace, and Jim Ellis, chair of the NASA Space Council Users Advisory Group. Caltech manages JPL for NASA.

All you need to know about InSight to Mars

NASA’s next mission to Mars, Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight), is scheduled to launch Saturday, May 5, on a first-ever mission to study the heart of the Red Planet. Coverage of prelaunch and launch activities begins Thursday, May 3, on NASA Television and the agency’s website.

InSight, the first planetary mission to take off from the West Coast, is targeted to launch at 4:05 a.m. PDT (7:05 a.m. EDT) from Space Launch Complex-3 at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California aboard a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V rocket.

Launching on the same rocket is a separate NASA technology experiment known as Mars Cube One (MarCO). MarCO consists of two mini-spacecraft and will be the first test of CubeSat technology in deep space. They are designed to test new communications and navigation capabilities for future missions and may aid InSight communications.

NASA TV and online mission coverage is as follows (all times Pacific):

Thursday, May 3

1 p.m. – Prelaunch Briefing

  • Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters, Washington
  • Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California
  • Tom Hoffman, InSight project manager at JPL
  • Annick Sylvestre-Baron, deputy project manager for InSight seismometer investigation at France’s space agency, the Centre National d’Études Spatiales, Paris
  • Philippe Lognonné – InSight seismometer investigation lead at the Institut de Physique du Globe de Paris, France
  • Tilman Spohn, investigation lead at the German Aerospace Center (DLR) for the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe (HP3), an instrument on InSight, Berlin
  • Andrew Klesh, MarCO chief engineer at JPL
  • Anne Marinan, MarCO systems engineer at JPL
  • Stu Spath, InSight program manager at Lockheed Martin Space, Denver
  • Tim Dunn, launch director with NASA’s Launch Services Program at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
  • Scott Messer, ULA program manager for NASA launches, Centennial, Colorado
  • Col. Michael Hough, commander of the 30th Space Wing at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Central California
  • 1st Lt. Kristina Williams, weather officer for the 30th Space Wing

Saturday, May 5 (all times Pacific)
3:30 a.m. – Launch coverage begins.
4:05 a.m. – Launch time

Prelaunch Briefing Participation

Media and the public also may ask questions during the event on social media using #askNASA.

Public Launch Viewing

There are two official launch viewing sites for the public in Lompoc, California. For information on these sites, visit:

InSight will be the first mission to peer deep beneath the Martian surface, studying the planet’s interior by measuring its heat output and listening for marsquakes, which are seismic events similar to earthquakes on Earth. It will use the seismic waves generated by marsquakes to develop a map of the planet’s deep interior. The resulting insight into Mars’ formation will help us better understand how other rocky planets, including Earth, were and are created.

JPL manages the InSight mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. InSight is part of NASA’s Discovery Program, managed by the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. The spacecraft, including cruise stage and lander, was built and tested by Lockheed Martin Space in Denver.

Several European partners, including France’s space agency, the Centre National d’Étude Spatiales, and Germany’s DLR, are supporting the mission.

ULA, of Centennial, Colorado, is providing the Atlas V launch service. The Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management.

Where to join the live event

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