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NASA's Next Mars Lander Passes Key Test Ahead of May Launch

LITTLETON, Colo. — NASA's next Mars mission — a lander designed to probe the Red Planet’s deep interior and eavesdrop on rumbling Marsquakes — is reaching "ship and shoot" status.

As spacecraft names go, this one's is a mouthful: Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport. That has been mercifully shortened to InSight

Technicians unfurl the InSight Mars lander's solar arrays during a key test at a Lockheed Martin Space Systems facility in Colorado on Jan. 23, 2018. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

A wonderful moment came early Tuesday morning (Jan. 23) for Barbara and me here at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, which built InSight for NASA: the unfurling of the lander's solar arrays. [The Mars Insight Mission in Pictures]

On the floor with InSight during the solar array test: shameless selfie! (Image credit: Leonard David)

Technicians took great care in monitoring the deployment of the solar panels. That process was part of the late-stage testing campaign ahead of InSight's departure to its launch site, Vandenberg Air Force Base in California.

Liftoff of the spacecraft is targeted for May 5!

InSight's solar panels performed as planned during the test, NASA officials said. (Image credit: Lockheed Martin)

Leonard David is author of "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet," published by National Geographic. The book is a companion to the National Geographic Channel series "Mars." A longtime writer for Space.com, David has been reporting on the space industry for more than five decades. Follow us @Spacedotcom, Facebook or Google+. This version of the story published on Space.com.

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Leonard David
Leonard David

Leonard David is an award-winning space journalist who has been reporting on space activities for more than 50 years. Currently writing as Space.com's Space Insider Columnist among his other projects, Leonard has authored numerous books on space exploration, Mars missions and more, with his latest being "Moon Rush: The New Space Race" published in 2019 by National Geographic. He also wrote "Mars: Our Future on the Red Planet" released in 2016 by National Geographic. Leonard  has served as a correspondent for SpaceNews, Scientific American and Aerospace America for the AIAA. He was received many awards, including the first Ordway Award for Sustained Excellence in Spaceflight History in 2015 at the AAS Wernher von Braun Memorial Symposium. You can find out Leonard's latest project at his website and on Twitter.