Mars InSight lander lifts off from California

Mars Insight launch
An Atlas 5 rocket rises from its fog-shrouded launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, sending NASA’s Mars InSight lander toward the Red Planet. (GeekWire Photo/Kevin Lisota)

NASA’s Mars InSight lander and two piggyback probes were lofted through California’s coastal fog into space before dawn today, beginning a six-month, 300 million-mile journey to study the Red Planet’s mysterious interior.

It marked the first interplanetary mission to be launched from the U.S. West Coast.

The launch pad at Vandenberg Air Force Base was shrouded in murk when the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket lifted off at 4:05 a.m. PT. Near the pad, the typically foggy weather blocked the view, but not the sound.

“We really heard it,” NASA chief scientist Jim Green said after liftoff. “Car alarms went off in the parking lot.”

Spectators across a wide swath of the Southern California coast got a good look at the rocket’s red glare as the Atlas ascended to orbit.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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