I’ve gotten a lot of questions about NASA’s latest mission to Mars, so I thought I’d take a crack at explaining the mission. Here’s the gist:
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) is a 37-foot, solar-powered spacecraft. Its mission is to orbit Mars to study the planet’s climate history. MAVEN will be the first spacecraft mission dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars.
The spacecraft launched Nov. 18 (Check out some photos of the MAVEN launch), but the journey to Mars will take about 10 months. Officially, MAVEN is set to reach its destination Sept. 2014. At that point, MAVEN will spend one year orbiting the planet.
Why are they going to Mars again?
You may remember NASA’s Curiosity Rover landing on Mars in Sept. 2012, but MAVEN is an altogether different mission that’s studying completely new data. While in orbit the MAVEN will take measurements that will, for the first time, allow scientists to study the current state of the Mars’ upper atmosphere and ionosphere. The results may help experts understand how the the once vibrant, water-filled and possibly life-sustaining planet was transformed into the cold and barren desert it is today. This info is also vital in providing intelligence for future NASA missions to Mars and the Solar System beyond.
And here’s an artist’s rendering of MAVEN’s orbit around Mars: