NASA launching robotic explorer to Mars

Nov 18, 2013 by Marcia Dunn
This photo provided by NASA shows a full moon rising behind the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft onboard at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Florida. NASA's next Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. (AP Photo/NASA, Bill Ingalls)

NASA's newest Martian explorer is on its launch pad in Florida, ready to soar.

The Maven spacecraft was scheduled to blast off aboard an unmanned Atlas V rocket Monday afternoon.

NASA is sending Maven to Mars to study its . Scientists want to know why Mars went from being warm and wet during its first billion years, to the cold and dry place it is today.

The early Martian atmosphere was thick enough to hold water and possibly support microbial life. But much of that atmosphere may have been lost to space, eroded by the sun.

"Something clearly happened," the University of Colorado's Bruce Jakosky, the principal Maven scientist, said on the eve of Maven's flight. "What we want to do is to understand what are the reasons for that change in the climate."

Maven—bearing eight science instruments—will take 10 months to reach Mars, entering into orbit around the red planet in September 2014.

The mission costs $671 million.

A question underlying all of NASA's 21 Mars missions to date is whether life could have started on what now seems to be a barren world.

The United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft onboard is seen at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Sunday, Nov. 17, 2013, Cape Canaveral, Fla. The robotic explorer called Maven is due to blast off Monday, Nov. 18, 2013 on a 10-month journey to the red planet. There, it will orbit Mars and study the atmosphere to try to understand how the planet morphed from warm and wet to cold and dry. (AP Photo/NASA, Bill Ingalls)

"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," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's science mission director.

Maven stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, with a capital "N'' in EvolutioN.

It is NASA's 21st shot at Mars. Fourteen of the previous 20 missions have succeeded, the most recent being the Curiosity rover that was launched in 2011 and landed in 2012.

That's a U.S. success rate of 70 percent. No other country comes close.

Curiosity's odometer reads 2.6 miles after more than a year of roving. An astronaut could accomplish that distance in about a day on the Martian surface, Grunsfeld noted Sunday.

Grunsfeld, a former astronaut, said considerable technology is needed, however, before humans can fly to Mars in the 2030s, NASA's ultimate objective.

The launch is scheduled for Monday afternoon from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Explore further: NASA to probe why Mars lost its atmosphere

4.4 /5 (7 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What happened to Mars? A planetary mystery

Nov 13, 2013

Billions of years ago when the planets of our solar system were still young, Mars was a very different world. Liquid water flowed in long rivers that emptied into lakes and shallow seas. A thick atmosphere ...

Sputtering: How mars may have lost its atmosphere

Sep 13, 2012

Why is Mars cold and dry? While some recent studies hint that early Mars may have never been wet or warm, many scientists think that long ago, Mars once had a denser atmosphere that supported liquid water on ...

Recommended for you

Beastly sunspot amazes, heightens eclipse excitement

18 minutes ago

That's one big, black blemish on the Sun today! Rarely have we been witness to such an enormous sunspot. Lifting the #14 welder's glass to my eyes this morning I about jumped back and bumped into the garage.

The formation and development of desert dunes on Titan

1 hour ago

Combining climate models and observations of the surface of Titan from the Cassini probe, a team from the AIM Astrophysics Laboratory (CNRS / CEA / Paris Diderot University) , in collaboration with researchers ...

'Eau de comet' is a bit of a stinker

1 hour ago

Rotten eggs, horse pee, alcohol and bitter almonds: this is the bouquet of odours you would smell if a comet in deep space could be brought back to Earth, European scientists said on Thursday.

User comments : 8

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

grondilu
5 / 5 (3) Nov 18, 2013
> Scientists want to know why Mars went from being warm and wet during its first billion years, to the cold and dry place it is today.

Wasn't it just due to low gravity and lack of magnetic field against solar wind?

I guess it's always good to get confirmation or something, but considering this mission is $671 million, I can't help wonder if this money could not have been better used to study an other celestial body.
TheKnowItAll
1.4 / 5 (8) Nov 18, 2013
Considering their true goal this is money well spent. Obviously this craft will have a multitude of uses but that's for them to know and for us to find out...in time.
Sinister1811
4 / 5 (1) Nov 18, 2013
Wasn't it just due to low gravity and lack of magnetic field against solar wind?


Yeah, so true. I can't imagine it would've been anything more than that. They're spending $671 million to find out what they already knew. lol

I can't help wonder if this money could not have been better used to study an other celestial body.


I actually would've preferred that too. Getting a little tired of Mars. Pretty soon, we'll know more about it than our own planet.
grondilu
3 / 5 (2) Nov 19, 2013
Pretty soon, we'll know more about it than our own planet.


I would not be surprised if that appeared to be already true. I mean, our planet is bigger, most of it is covered by deep oceans or ice sheets, it is also an active planet which means there are still lots of stuff to learn about volcanoes, seismology and all... Mars is very boring in comparison.
Sinister1811
not rated yet Nov 19, 2013
I couldn't agree more, grondilu. You summed it up better than I could.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (1) Nov 20, 2013
Well, I partially agree with some of the comments, but there's a bit more to it.

We are creating a catalog of exoplanets. They are too far away and too dim to really know very much about them, so we have to guess. The only way to guess is by understanding how planets develop and how different types of planets might be similar or different. For example, is the magnetic field required to hold an atmosphere, or can you do without it?

As we learn what the rules are, we can predict a few things about exoplanets that we cannot see directly. Then we can make more intelligent decisions about how to explore them in the future. Mars is a popular target because it is accessible and because it is so similar to Earth, but so different. We really need to know why Mars isn't more like Earth.
Zephir_fan
Nov 20, 2013
This comment has been removed by a moderator.
GSwift7
5 / 5 (2) Nov 21, 2013
BTW I'm unpleasantly surprised, that NASA wants to pull out the Curiosity mission


Did you even read the story you linked to?

First, that is an old story from July.

Second, the review isn't until 2014, with the decision taking effect no sooner than 2015 budget (so Curiosity will be about 3 years old by then).

Third, it's actually the +15 year old Cassini mission, with a broken primary instrument, that will be partially defunded, not Curiosity.

Fourth, defunding old missions when they have accomplished their job and usually a whole lot more is part of the normal plan of operation. You use what you learned with the previous mission so that you can build the next mission better. You don't want to spend billions of dollars unless you think you can get the mission to work. For example, it would have been insane to do something like Curiosity on your first trip to Mars. The time and expense of space exploration force you to take baby steps. They are very smart about how they do it
Q-Star
4 / 5 (1) Nov 21, 2013
It's evident, whole this research is driven with various lobbyist groups of provider companies:


Zeph, glad to ya looking so much like yourself. I hope ya''re well. Zeph, ya would be surprised if ya learned more about these "provider companies". The greatest portion of "provider companies" are not companies at all. They are the the universities, researchers and governmental agencies who conduct the missions. Ya can't go down to Satellites-R-Us to order up satellites. Each one is built for a very specific mission with very specific tasks. Usually by and under the supervision of research teams.

it's easier to collect billions of dollars for a new rover, than few millions for remote operation of old one, because the later one is not so lucrative


But ya can't do new science with old rovers. The old rovers provide ya with the data to ask new questions. "Wow, would ya look at this? Man I wish we had known this before because then we could included a,,,,,,, "