Remember this fantastic view from a launch in 2015? We might see one that looks similar this weekend in Southern California.
NASA is about to do something it has never done before. On Saturday, May 5th, the space agency will attempt to launch a rocket to Mars from the west coast of the USA. Exhaust from the early-morning liftoff will produce a luminous plume over Southern California and a potential display of artificial noctilucent clouds visible from a wider area.
On Saturday morning, May 5th, sometime between 4:05 a.m. and 6:05 am PDT, the space agency will attempt to launch a rocket to Mars from the west coast of the USA from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Liftoff of the Atlas 5 carrying the InSight Mars lander will create a plume widely visible around Southern California . This movie shows where to look:
Residents from as far north as Bakersfield to perhaps as far south as Rosarito, Mexico, may see the Atlas rocket rising in the predawn sky and then heading south, parallel to the coastline.
That’s not all. The Atlas 5 might also create a display of man-made noctilucent clouds, which sometimes appear after early-morning rocket launches. Tiny ice crystals in a rocket’s exhaust can catch the rays of the distant rising sun, producing luminous forms in the dark pre-dawn sky. These forms can have striking iridescent colors, although they are typically electric-blue.
Noctilucent clouds from previous launches at Vandenberg have been seen as far away as Arizona.
If NASA does not launch the rocket on May 5th because of weather or other problems, they could try again the next day. Launch windows are available from May 5th through June 8th. Stay tuned for updates.
InSight will be the first mission to another planet to leave Earth from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Missions to other planets normally launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and fly east, over water. That’s because launching towards the east adds the momentum of Earth’s eastward rotation to the launch vehicle’s own thrust. But the Atlas V-401 is powerful enough to fly south towards the sea from Vandenberg Air Force Base. Besides, Vandenberg Air Force Base is more available at this time to accommodate InSight’s five-week launch window.
The launch is only the beginning; the trip to Mars takes about six months. The journey is about 301 million miles (485 million kilometers).
No matter at what particular time and date InSight launches during its launch window, its date with Mars is set for Nov. 26, 2018.
You can watch the launch live online here: https://mars.nasa.gov/insight/mission/timeline/launch/watch-online/
Source: NASA Press release and online resources