NASA InSight
Illustration of NASA's Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight). The spacecraft is scheduled to launch for Mars on May 5. NASA

If NASA’s planned launch of its upcoming Mars mission, InSight (short for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport), goes according to schedule in the morning of May 5, it would make it the first interplanetary launch for the space agency that would take place from the West Coast. For the public’s benefit, NASA has announced clear viewing instructions, so space enthusiasts can watch the launch safely, either from official sites or even other locations.

All spacecraft that NASA has sent to other planets or planetary systems so far have been launched from the East Coast, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. This has been the case mostly due to the fact that the East Coast provides better physics for the launches, but that pattern is set to change with InSight.

InSight is scheduled to take off at 7:05 a.m. EDT (4:04 a.m. PDT) on Saturday morning from Space Launch Complex-3 at the Vandenberg Air Force Base, about 10 miles northwest of Lompoc, California. Given the location and the early hour, NASA said the launch would be visible to the naked eye to people in the state, all the way from San Diego up to Santa Maria, if the weather was clear.

If you are in that area, you can watch the launch simply by waking up early and looking at the western sky. Just make sure to check the InSight website to confirm if the launch is on target before you decide to step outside.

But if you are more enthusiastic about watching the launch, NASA has announced two official viewing points, where you would also be able to interact with InSight team members and NASA officials. One of these is the Lompoc City Airport, where you can watch the launch from the tarmac, and the other is St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, also in Lompoc. Entry to both these venues would open only at 2:30 a.m., while the launch audio coverage would start at 3:30 a.m.

An Atlas V rocket, built by United Launch Alliance — a partnership between Lockheed Martin Space Systems and Boeing Defense, Space & Security — is the launch vehicle for InSight, and the last time this rocket flew from Vandenberg Air Force Base in September 2017, it was bright and high enough to be visible from the Greater Los Angeles area and many parts of southern California.

This time should be the same, and according to NASA, the following places would make for good unofficial viewing spots: Ocean Avenue, Providence Landing and Harris Grade, Beaches to the South of Lompoc, Santa Ynez and Los Padres National Forest, Santa Barbara, Ventura and Los Angeles Counties.

NASA warned launch watchers to be safe, however, saying there was likelihood of a dense fog at the time of the launch window. It suggested people should dress in layers, and be careful in the dark, as well as follow instructions, since the launch site is close to a military installation.

If you would like to watch the launch from the comfort your home, however, or if you don’t live in a place from where you can watch the launch by looking up at the sky, NASA will live-stream the entire event on its website.