The Latest: NASA confirms Mars lander on way to red planet

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — The Latest on NASA's launch of the InSight spacecraft, which is bound for Mars (all times local):

8:45 a.m.

NASA's newest Mars explorer has busted out of Earth orbit and is zooming toward the red planet.

After a smooth launch early Saturday morning from California, the Atlas V (five) rocket put the Mars InSight lander into a temporary parking orbit around Earth. An hour later, the upper stage fired and put the spacecraft on a direct path toward Mars.

It will take the spacecraft more than six months to get to Mars. The journey will span about 300 million miles (485 million kilometers.)

InSight has company for the long trip. Once InSight was flying free, a pair of mini satellites popped off the upper stage.

Launch controllers at Vandenberg Air Force Base applauded and shook hands once the Mars lander and the twin mini satellites were on their way. NASA's new administrator, Jim Bridenstine, thanked the team and called it a big day full of firsts.

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7:30 a.m.

A NASA spacecraft bound for Mars has made it through the first crucial stage of its launch. Now it's up to the upper stage of the Atlas V rocket to put the Mars InSight lander on its path to the red planet.

The InSight spacecraft reached orbit Saturday morning following its liftoff from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. It was so foggy that spectators at the launch site could hear and feel the rocket's roar and rumble. But they couldn't see it.

Once out over the Pacific, the rocket headed south along the California coast. Early risers had a chance to spot the launch, the first to another planet from California.

NASA normally flies from Cape Canaveral, Florida, but decided to switch coasts for InSight because of a smaller rocket backlog.

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7:09 a.m.

NASA has launched a spacecraft to land on Mars and explore the mysterious insides of the red planet.

The Mars InSight lander rocketed away Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, the first interplanetary mission ever to depart from the West Coast. It will take more than six months for the spacecraft to reach Mars and start its unprecedented geologic excavations.

The lander will dig deeper into Mars than ever before — nearly 16 feet, or 5 meters — to take the planet's temperature. It will also attempt to make the first measurements of marsquakes, using a seismometer placed directly on the Martian surface.

The Atlas V (five) rocket holds a pair of mini satellites meant to trail InSight all the way to Mars in a first-of-its-kind technology demonstration.

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