MAVEN Spacecraft to Study Martian Climate Change
November 15, 2013 | WMFE - What happened to the water that once flowed on Mars? That's the mission of NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, which is scheduled to launch Monday from Cape Canaveral.
[Photo: Courtesy NASA]
It's the first spacecraft sent to Mars' most unexplored region: its upper atmosphere.
Scientists believe ancient Mars' surface was similar to Earth's, with large bodies of water and blue skies mottled with white clouds.
They want to know why the Red Planet's atmosphere thinned over time and its water disappeared.
MAVEN project manager David Mitchell says past missions focused on Mars' surface.
"This one is devoted to understanding the upper atmosphere at Mars, understanding it over a period of time of a year, to understand how it changed. And then project back in time. What are the drivers behind it? The solar storms that happen? And how that influences the upper atmosphere when those kinds of things are happening."
MAVEN will launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket. Vernon Thorp of United Launch Alliance says MAVEN's exploration of Mars' upper atmosphere will help scientists understand climate change here on Earth.
"The data MAVEN provides will help planetary scientists understand the history of climate change on the Red Planet and help advance our own understanding of both the Martian and the Earth environment."
MAVEN's launch window is between 1:28 p.m. and 3:28 p.m. Weather conditions are less favorable Tuesday and Wednesday.
It'll take about 10 months for MAVEN to reach Mars.