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The Best Views of NASA's InSight Mars Lander Launch? From an Airplane and Mountain!

When NASA launched its InSight Mars lander from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California early Saturday morning (May 5), a thick blanket of fog prevented onlookers from being able to see the Atlas V rocket as it soared into orbit. But the murky weather didn't stop all of InSight's spectators from catching a glimpse of the rocket's ascent. 

Max Fagin, an aerospace engineer for the in-space manufacturing company Made in Space, took his rocket-watching experience to new heights by flying a small personal aircraft above the clouds a few miles north of Vandenberg Air Force Base

Circling the Lompoc City Airport at an altitude of 6,000 feet (1,800 meters), Fagin and three passengers were treated to what was likely the best view anyone could possibly have of InSight's historic launch. [Launch Photos: NASA's InSight Mars Lander Blasts Off on Atlas V Rocket]

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David McNew, a photographer based in Los Angeles, also traveled to the San Gabriel mountains to get a good view of InSight's launch. In his long-exposure shot, the rocket's trail passes through a thick layer of fog and emerges into the early-morning twilight. 

The Atlas V rocket carrying NASA's Mars InSight mission launches from Vandenberg Air Force Base, as seen from the San Gabriel Mountains more than 100 miles away. (Image credit: David McNew/Getty)

Following the launch, Ellison continued to track InSight and the Centaur upper-stage rocket, which separated from InSight about an hour after liftoff. 

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InSight is expected to arrive at Mars on Nov. 26, when it will land on the surface and begin to study the planet's interior structure and look for marsquakes.  

It was the first interplanetary mission to lift off from the U.S. West Coast, where dense fog frequently rolls in from the marine layer — a mass of cold, dense air just above the surface of the Pacific Ocean — during summer months. 

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Hanneke Weitering

SPACE.COM ASSOCIATE EDITOR — Hanneke joined the team at Space.com in August 2016 as a staff writer and producer. She has previously written for Scholastic, MedPage Today, Scienceline and Oak Ridge National Lab. After studying physics at the University of Tennessee in her home town of Knoxville, she earned her graduate degree in Science, Health and Environmental Reporting (SHERP) from New York University.