NASA Begins Launch Preparations for Next Mars Mission

NASA’s next spacecraft going to Mars arrived Friday, Aug. 2, at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and is now perched in a cleanroom to begin final preparations for its November launch.

NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatiles Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is seen inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Aug. 3. 2013 at the agency's Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image credit: NASA.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatiles Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is seen inside the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility on Aug. 3. 2013 at the agency’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Image credit: NASA.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is undergoing detailed testing and fueling prior to being moved to its launch pad. The mission has a 20-day launch period that opens Nov. 18.

The spacecraft will conduct the first mission dedicated to surveying the upper atmosphere of Mars. Scientists expect to obtain unprecedented data that will help them understand how the loss of atmospheric gas to space may have played a part in changing the planet’s climate.

“We’re excited and proud to ship the spacecraft right on schedule,” said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. “But more critical milestones lie ahead before we accomplish our mission of collecting science data from Mars. I firmly believe the team is up to the task. Now we begin the final push to launch.”

Over the weekend, the team confirmed the spacecraft arrived in good condition. They removed the spacecraft from the shipping container and secured it to a rotation fixture in the cleanroom. In the next week, the team will reassemble components previously removed for transport. Further checks prior to launch will include software tests, spin balance tests, and test deployments of the spacecraft’s solar panels and booms.

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