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A new NASA mission that will investigate how Mars lost its atmosphere and abundant liquid water launched into space on November 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Credit: NASA

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft separated from an Atlas V Centaur rocket’s second stage 53 minutes after launch. The solar arrays deployed approximately one hour after launch and now power the spacecraft. MAVEN has embarked on a 10-month interplanetary cruise before its arrival at Mars next September.

In the next four weeks, MAVEN will power on and check out each of its eight instruments. Upon arrival at Mars, the spacecraft will execute an orbit insertion maneuver, firing six thrusters that will allow it to be captured by Mars’ orbit. In the following five weeks, MAVEN will establish itself in an orbit where it can conduct science operations, deploy science appendages, and commission all instruments before starting its one-Earth-year scientific primary mission.

Credit: Lockheed Martin

MAVEN is traveling to Mars to explore how the Red Planet may have lost its atmosphere over billions of years. By analyzing the planet’s upper atmosphere and measuring current rates of atmospheric loss, MAVEN scientists hope to understand how Mars transitioned from a warm, wet planet to the dry desert world we see today.

Links: NASA press release; short artist concept video; NY Times article summarizing MAVEN’s science goals; Emily Lakdawalla’s blog post explaining the launch, the spacecraft and the science.

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