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NASA Begins Launch Preparations for Next Mars Mission

Aug 05, 2013 04:28 PM EDT
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Just as the Curiosity rover marks its first 365 days on Mars, NASA has begun launch preparations for its next mission to the Red Planet.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatiles Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft was delivered to the Kennedy Space Center on in Florida on Friday. MAVEN will remain inside a "cleanroom" while it is prepared for its scheduled November launch to Mars. MAVEN will undergo detailed testing and fueling in the sterile environment prior to being moved to its launch pad.

The MAVEN mission, which is NASA's first dedicated attempt to study the upper portions of the Martian atmosphere, has a 20-day launch period which opens Nov. 18. Scientist hope MAVEN will provide data that will help scientists better understand how the loss of atmospheric gas to space may have played a part in Mars' changing climate. After launch it will take about 10 months for Maven to make its way into Martian orbit, with a scheduled arrival in September 2014.

"We're excited and proud to ship the spacecraft right on schedule," said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. "But more critical milestones lie ahead before we accomplish our mission of collecting science data from Mars. I firmly believe the team is up to the task. Now we begin the final push to launch."

On Friday the spacecraft was transferred to the Kennedy Space Center from Buckley Air Force base in Aurora, Colo. on board a C-17 cargo plane. The spacecraft was designed and built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Littleton, Colo.

"It's always a mix of excitement and stress when you ship a spacecraft down to the launch site," said Guy Beutelschies, MAVEN program manager at Lockheed Martin. "It's similar to moving your children to college after high school graduation. You're proud of the hard work to get to this point, but you know they still need some help before they're ready to be on their own."

The data MAVEN collects data assist scientists in reconstructing Mars' past climate, enabling them to project how Mars became the cold, dusty desert planet we see today.

"MAVEN is not going to detect life," said Bruce Jakosky, planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and MAVEN's principal investigator. "But it will help us understand the climate history, which is the history of its habitability."

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