UPDATE: NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Launches on Mission to Mars
November 18, 2013 | WMFE - NASA's MAVEN spacecraft is on its way toward Mars. The spacecraft, perched atop an Atlas V rocket, launched Monday from Cape Canaveral, punching through a ceiling of hazy clouds.
[Photo: Courtesy NASA]
MAVEN will be the first spacecraft to explore Mars' upper atmosphere.
Scientists want to understand how atmospheric and climate changes transformed the Red Planet from a world where large, flowing bodies of water made life possible to a cold, barren desert.
NASA's Jim Green says the mission is important as the space agency prepares to send humans to an asteroid and eventually Mars.
"We need to know everything about Mars that we can before humans go to Mars, whether they're circling Mars in the tenuous atmosphere at the high altitudes that MAVEN will also transition, as it goes then plunging into the atmosphere and through the ionosphere and then back out in the solar wind."
Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN's principle investigator, says the mission can help scientists understand climate change on Earth.
"The physics is the same, how energy from the sun interacts with the atmosphere, what it does, the chemical process, the physical process. But it's different boundary conditions. So by looking at Mars we do understand the processes better, and we can apply it back to Earth."
In a few weeks engineers will start turning on MAVEN's science instruments and testing them. A trajectory correction also is planned.
The spacecraft is scheduled to arrive at Mars in September 2014. It'll spend a year exploring the Martian atmosphere from various altitudes.