An Atlas 5 rocket soared into space early on Saturday from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, carrying NASA's first robotic lander designed for exploring the deep interior of another planet on its voyage to Mars.
The Mars InSight probe lifted off from the central California coast at 4:05am PDT (3:35pm IST), treating early-rising residents across a wide swath of the state to the luminous pre-dawn spectacle of the first US interplanetary spacecraft to be launched over the Pacific.
The lander will be carried aloft for NASA and its Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) atop a two-stage, 19-story Atlas 5 rocket from the fleet of United Launch Alliance, a partnership of Lockheed Martin Corp and Boeing.
The payload will be released about 90 minutes after launch on a 301 million mile (484 million km) flight to Mars. It is due to reach its destination in six months, landing on a broad, smooth plain close to the planet's equator called the Elysium Planitia.
That will put InSight roughly 373 miles (600km) from the 2012 landing site of the car-sized Mars rover Curiosity.
The new 800-pound (360kg) spacecraft marks the 21st US-launched Martian exploration, dating to the Mariner fly-by missions of the 1960s. Nearly two dozen other Mars missions have been launched by other nations.
Once settled, the solar-powered InSight will spend two years - about one Martian year - plumbing the depths of...