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Spacecraft launched at Vandenberg AFB lands on Mars

A NASA spacecraft that launched from the Central Coast earlier this year is now sitting on the surface of Mars.

The InSight robotic explorer successfully landed on Mars in a dramatic landing viewed by people from around the world.

“A lot of things had to happen just right today for that spacecraft to get to the ground and it did,” said Brian Day from NASA Solar System Exploration Research Institute.

After surviving a perilous descent through Mars’ treacherous atmosphere described as “seven minutes of terror,” the InSight touched touched down, completing a mission that originated at Vandenberg Air Fore Base earlier this year.

“On May 5th, this spacecraft launched in the first inter-planetary launch from the West Coast of the United States,” May said. “A lot of people were gathered six months ago to hear that titanic roar as that rocket went screaming up into the fog. There’s a tie to this area and based on the success that we’ve seen I feel pretty confident is saying that it won’t be the last.”

Measuring nearly 20 feet long and weighing just under 800 pounds, InSight is designed to study the interior of the planet, including its crust, mantle and core.

“This is fundamentally going to change the understanding of that planet and of rocky planets in our solar system as a whole and that includes the Earth,” May said.

As the InSight began its approach to the surface, people around the world watching the dramatic landing, including more than 100 at a public viewing inside the Marian Theatre on the Allan Hancock College campus in Santa Maria.

“I started clapping,” said Hancock student Justin Dill. “I was so relieved and happy. There’s few things in my life that give me such joy in pure happiness like that, so we were all clapping, super hard, super loud for it.”

“It was absolutely exhilarating,” said Joyce McGrath. “To think that we can go so far in space. It’s absolutely amazing.”

Within a few minutes, InSight sent back its first image of its new home.

It’s just the first step in what has already been a long journey, but also one that is just beginning.

“They’re going to be looking at this for a long time and it’s going to make our trip to Mars much safer and probably a lot sooner than people think it as long as it stays in the budget,” Gard Hamel said, who watched it unfold in the Marian Theatre.

“Just knowing that we can get an instrument to Mars is the next step to getting humans to Mars, so it’s much bigger than ourselves as individuals,” said Dill.

To reach Mars, InSight traveled 300 million miles since leaving Vandenberg Air Force Base six months ago.

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