NASA will launch an interplanetary mission from the US West Coast for the first time Saturday morning, and just about anyone can watch the spectacle of the.
The launch of the mission, which will study the interior of Mars and detect "Marsquakes," is currently set for 4:05 a.m. PT from Vandenberg Air Force Base in Southern California.
Ironically, in this case, being as close to the launch pad as possible may not be the best way to get a glimpse of the United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket carrying InSight and two tiny cubesats, adorably nicknamed "Wall-E" and "Eva," that will accompany it on its long journey.
That's because the weather forecast for Saturday morning calls for some fog.
"We are anticipating this fog to be very shallow, about 200-600 feet above the pad," explained Lieutenant Kristina Williams, weather officer for the Air Force's 30th Space Wing during a pre-launch briefing on Thursday. "If you're standing far enough away or in the distance you should be able to see the rocket."
In other words, if you're in Southern California and want to see the rocket in flight, you'll want to try to get above whatever fog might be hovering around your location.
Unfortunately, the two official launch viewing sites that NASA has set up for the public in Lompoc, California, are near sea level and may be stuck in the fog at launch time.
But if you can get a clear view of the early morning sky, you should be able to see the rocket as it heads up and to the south from Vandenberg.
"After lift-off from Vandenberg's Space Launch Complex 3, the Atlas V begins a southerly trajectory and climbs out over the Channel Islands off Oxnard," said Tim Dunn, launch director for the Launch Services Program at the John F. Kennedy Space Center in Florida. "If you live on the California Central Coast or south to L.A. and San Diego, be sure to get up early on May 5, because Atlas V is the gold standard in launch vehicles and it can put on a great show."
The rocket could be visible up and down a wide swath of the California coast for residents from as far north as Bakersfield to perhaps as far south as Rosarito, Mexico.
Of course, there is an easier way to see the launch than heading out into pre-dawn fog. Live televised coverage will be available on NASA TV, and I've conveniently added the YouTube live feed at the top of this post.
In case the Saturday launch is delayed, the launch window opens a few minutes earlier each morning up until June 8. The weather forecast for Sunday morning is about the same as Saturday.
If you happen to catch a photo or video of the Atlas V rocket, please tweet it @EricCMack.
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