SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, Calif. - Its an out of this world mission for Vandenberg Air Force Base.
NASA has given the green light for construction of a new "Mars Lander" that will be launched for the first time from Vandenberg Air Force Base.
The new generation Mars Lander program is called InSight and follows on the success of previous Mars missions that have helped us better understand the red planet.
The plan in the new mission is to use the highly reliable Atlas 5 rocket to launch the InSight Mars Lander into orbit and then have it make its way to the red planet for a unique mission.
"The insight mission is a project to put a lander on the surface of Mars to investigate the deep interior of the planet", says Bruce Banerdt, one of the team leaders for the project with NASA/JPL in Pasadena, "by deep interior I'm talking about anywhere from a few miles down all the way to the very center of the planet. We think we will be able to use all that information to understand the formation of the planet."
The InSight mission is believed to be the first planetary launch in Vandenberg Air Force Base history, the previous Mars Lander "Curiosity" launched from Florida.
"I think its exciting, anytime we add a mission at Vandenberg its good for our economy", says Ken Ostini of the Lompoc Valley Chamber of Commerce, "its going to bring people and companies and support agencies for that mission to our area so I think it can only be good. Other countries are involved in this process, so they may be sending folks here in support of that mission, which again is good for our local economy."
The 1986 Space Shuttle Challenger disaster ended Vandenberg's hopes to host the Shuttle program pulling the plug on what was then an economic boom in the area.
"That was a very difficult time for the local economy, there was a lot of development going on in our community, Lompoc, Santa Maria, a lot of that stuff came to a screeching halt", Ostini says
Since then local contractors have benefited from various NASA orbital launch programs at VAFB as well as the Mars Lander program which has meant good paying local jobs.
That looks to continue with the half-billion dollar, international NASA InSight Program
"I think that we all know that the space mission is not going to go away in our country", Ostini says "so it continues to grow and evolve and I think its only great for our area."
The preliminary launch window for the NASA InSight Mars Lander, which is being built in Denver, is in March of 2016.