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NASA launches mission to Mars

CALIFORNIA — Mars is about to get its first thorough checkup ever after NASA on Saturday morning launched Insight from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

It is the first NASA mission launched to another planet from the West Coast. NASA’s previous interplanetary missions were launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

If it all goes as planned, after a six-month journey, the 790-pound (358-kilogram) probe will land on November 26, joining five other NASA spacecraft operating on and above Mars.

The mission’s principal investigator, Bruce Banerdt, told CNN he thinks InSight will fill the last gaping hole in NASA’s exploration of Mars.

“We have mapped the surface of the entire planet in terms of visible features, topography, gravity and magnetic fields,” he said.

“We have studied the atmosphere, both globally and at the surface. We have roved around the surface at four different places, studying the geology and piecing together the history of the surface. But until now, the vast regions of the planet deeper than a few miles, or so, (have) been almost completely unknown to us.”

He added, “InSight will change that with a single stroke.”

InSight will help scientists draw the first detailed map of the interior of Mars, and Banerdt said it’s hard to overstate how much science that map will create.