NASA’s latest effort, the Maven spacecraft, was scheduled to blast off aboard an unmanned Atlas V Rocket Monday afternoon. At 1.28pm EST from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, it did just so and flawlessly. The Mavens spacecraft will carry eight scientific instruments to accomplish its mission. The spacecraft will take 10 months to reach Mars, entering into its orbit in September 2014. The cost of the mission is a massive $671 million.
NASA is sending Maven to Mars for a study of the planet’s upper atmosphere. Scientists want to try to explain why Mars went from being balmy and wet during the planets first billion years, to the frozen and dried out place they see it as today.
According to the University of Colorado‘s Bruce Jakosky, who is the principal Maven scientist; the early Martian atmosphere was thick enough to hold water and possible support microbial life. But it is theorised that much of that atmosphere may have been lost to space, eroded by the Sun. “Something clearly happened,” Jakosy said beofre Maven’s flight. “What we want to do is to understand what are the reasons for that change in the climate”.
One of the questions underlying all of NASA’s Mars missions is whether any life could have started on, what now appears to be, a desolate world? John Grunsfeld, NASA’s science mission director said, “We don’t have that answer yet and that’s all part of our quest for trying to answer, ‘Are we alone in the universe’ in a much broader sense.”
MAVEN is an acronym which stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN. The mission is the 21st of NASA’s to Mars. Fourteen out of the last twenty missions have achieved their intentions, the most recent of which was the Mars Curiosity rover, launched back in 2011.
[Image via lockheedmartin]