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NASA Launches Mars InSight Probe on Journey to Study Red Planet

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(Bloomberg) -- NASA launched a space probe early Saturday on a mission to study Mars, helping to fill large gaps in scientists’ understanding of the planet’s geologic structure, composition and seismic activity.

An Atlas V rocket carrying Mars InSight roared into the pre-dawn skies at 4:05 a.m. from Vandenberg Air Force Base in central California. It is NASA’s first deep-space mission sent from the West Coast.

Mars InSight is the first NASA mission to study the red planet’s interior -- or, as the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory phrases it, “the vital signs of Mars.” InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport.

The 794-pound lander, built by Lockheed Martin Corp., is set to touch down on Nov. 26 after a six-month cruise and six-minute re-entry and descent -- the most perilous aspect of the journey.

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