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Space exploration

Locally built Mars probe almost ready for launch

InSight, manufactured by Lockheed, will study Red Planet's interior

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A locally built robotic lander destined for Mars is almost ready to take off, and engineers at Lockheed Martin Space Systems are excited to watch it leave.

The InSight Mars lander was largely built at Lockheed's Waterton Canyon campus, as part of a joint effort between NASA and a host of international agencies. The lander, scheduled to set down on the Red Planet in November 2018, will use a seismometer and a soil probe to study the interior of the planet.

The hope is that better data about Mars' core will lead to a better understanding of planetary formation, said Stu Spath, InSight's program manager.

“The problem is that Earth is a little too active to conduct these kind of precise experiments,” Spath said. “On Mars we'll be able to detect information about the planet's interior from the reverberation of meteorite impacts.”

The lander was originally intended to launch last year, but problems with vacuum seals on the scientific instruments forced a delay. With the problems resolved, InSight should be ready to blast off in May, which is the next time the planets align in a way that's conducive to interplanetary travel.

Scott Daniels, the program's assembly test and launch operations manager, is cautiously optimistic.

“It takes a million things to go right, but only one thing to go wrong,” Daniels said. “We take nothing for granted.”

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