NASA's InSight spacecraft is about to blast off for Mars

Whenever the spacecraft senses one of these quakes, it'lll take a photo showing the Martian interior, beaming it back to scientists on Earth to learn more about Mars' inner workings. Sophisticated geophysical instruments will be measuring the red planet's metrics.

Saturday's tour of JPL was one ofseveral stops the vice president made to the Southland - the region in California between Los Angeles and the U.S. -Mexico border - over the weekend, according to NBC San Diego.

Selected for development eight years ago, Smrekar explained that the premise of the InSight mission - understanding how rocky planets form by determining the geophysics of the red planet - will be accomplished using high-tech instruments placed on the Martian surface.

Coupled with the launch of InSight is the Mars Cube One (MarCO). The journey will span 6½ months and 300 million miles. The satellites will not stop at Mars, though.

"Where we land is an intentionally tiresome place", said Neil Bowles, a planetary scientist at Oxford University, and one of a number of United Kingdom researchers involved in the mission. It takes more power to launch to Mars from California, bit happily the rocket, an Atlas V, has that to spare.

As space exploration and satellite communications companies increasingly experiment with miniature craft, ULA is expanding its ability to accommodate a variety of payload configurations.

Global partners contributed $180m (£133m), with Germany providing the instruments for measuring heat flow and France equipping InSight with the seismic payload.

If you want to see it from the comforts of home in Santa Barbara, you have about a minute from when the Spaceflight Now website shows the launch, and when the rocket climbs above our western horizon, assuming a clear sky.

The first time was in 1976, with the Viking 1 and 2 spacecraft.

To really understand any planet, "we have to understand how its interior is connected to its surface connected to its atmosphere", Smrekar says.

InSight has until 8 June to blast off and reach Mars in November. This will provide detailed information about the size and composition of the planet's core.

"The lander is equipped with a percussive mole that will hammer up to five meters into this loose soil, known as regolith" said Warner. The principal instruments on board the spacecraft include the first ever seismographs placed directly on the surface of Mars. The 360 kg spacecraft - its name is short for Interior Exploration Using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport - marks the 21st US-launched Martian exploration, dating back to the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s. Their mission, while important in their own right, will not impact upon the science objectives set aside for InSight.

The heat flow probe is basically a 16-foot long thermometer that Insight will pound into the planet to take its temperature. After 10 years since its last touchdown on the red planet, NASA is finally returning to Mars with the InSight probe. But Banerdt says scientists have never examined any deeper into the surface. "Even with all the studying that we've done, it could throw us a curveball".

Scientists believe that Mars's seismic activity has been "relatively static" over the past three billion years, Reuters reports, making it a "geologic time machine" that could hold the answers to the Earth's formation. Phil Dierking adapted her story for VOA Learning English.

  • Carolyn Briggs