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NASA is poised to launch its first lander to Mars since 2012, an unmanned spacecraft called InSight that aims to listen for quakes and unravel the mystery of how rocky planets like Earth form.
It is scheduled to launch on Saturday at 7:05 am Eastern time (1105 GMT) from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and if all goes as planned, it should land on the Red Planet November 26.
Earth - Mars - Processes - Years - US
Since the Earth and Mars likely formed by similar processes 4.5 billion years ago, the US space agency hopes the lander—officially known as Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight)—will shed light on what made them so different.
"How we get from a ball of featureless rock into a planet that may or may not support life is a key question in planetary science," said Bruce Banerdt, InSight principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"We'd like to be able to understand what happened."
On Earth, these processes have been obscured over billions of years by earthquakes and the movement of molten rock in the mantle, he said.
Mars - Planet - Sun - Earth - Neighbor
But Mars, the fourth planet from the Sun and Earth's smaller and less geologically active neighbor, may yield more clues.
The lander will gather information using three instruments: a French-made seismometer, a device to help scientists on...
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