NASA Launches Mission to Study Upper Atmosphere of Mars

The MAVEN spacecraft launching. Image credit: NASA.

The MAVEN spacecraft launching. Image credit: NASA.

A NASA mission that will investigate how Mars lost its atmosphere and abundant liquid water launched into space at 1:28 p.m. EST Monday from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The agency’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft separated from an Atlas V Centaur rocket’s second stage 53 minutes after launch. The solar arrays deployed approximately one hour after launch and currently power the spacecraft. MAVEN now is embarking on a 10-month interplanetary cruise before arriving at Mars next September.

“MAVEN joins our orbiters and rovers already at Mars to explore yet another facet of the Red Planet and prepare for human missions there by the 2030s,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “This mission is part of an integrated and strategic exploration program that is uncovering the mysteries of the solar system and enabling us to reach farther destinations.”

MAVEN is traveling to Mars to explore how the Red Planet may have lost its atmosphere over billions of years. By analyzing the planet’s upper atmosphere and measuring current rates of atmospheric loss, MAVEN scientists hope to understand how Mars transitioned from a warm, wet planet to the dry desert world we see today.

Taking Flight at Cape Canaveral:  The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

Taking Flight at Cape Canaveral: The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA’s Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

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