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NASA’s MAVEN Mars orbiter set to launch on Nov. 18

Ken Kremer for – 15 Oct  2013

KENNEDY SPACE CENTER, FL, USA – MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN Mission) is NASA’s next mission to Mars.   It is scheduled to lift off on Nov. 18, 2013 from Cape Canaveral, Florida on an Atlas V 401 rocket.  The 903 kilogram (2000 pound) probe will arrive at the Red Planet in September 2014 after a 10 month interplanetary voyage.

It is the first spacecraft from Earth devoted to investigating and understanding the upper atmosphere of Mars. The purpose is determining how and why Mars lost virtually all of its atmosphere billions of years ago and what effect that had on the climate.

“MAVENS’s goal is determining the composition of the ancient Martian atmosphere and when it was lost, where did all the water go and how and when was it lost,” said Bruce Jakosky in an interview at the Kennedy Space Center.  Jakosky, of CU-Boulder, is the MAVEN Principal Investigator.

Scientists hope measurements from MAVEN’s suite of nine science instruments will help answer critical questions like whether the Martian atmosphere was once substantial enough to sustain liquid water on its surface and support life.  

I personally inspected MAVEN inside the clean room at the Kennedy Space Center with chief scientist Bruce  Jakosky, just prior to the partial shutdown of the US government on Oct. 1.

In an ultra rare viewing opportunity the solar panels were fully unfurled.  See my MAVEN clean room photos herein.

“MAVEN is on schedule and under budget” said Jakosky in an interview as we stood a meter away from the nearly fully assembled spacecraft.  “The solar panels look exactly as they will be when MAVEN is flying in space and around Mars.”

“To be here with MAVEN is breathtaking,” Jakosky told me. “Its laid out in a way that was spectacular to see!”

The government shutdown temporarily stopped all work but the mission was granted an emergency exemption after three days of no work.
“We are working toward being ready to launch on Nov. 18,” Jakosky told me. “We think it’s very feasible.”

MAVEN’s finding are key to understanding when and for how long Mars was much more Earth-like compared to today’s desiccated Red Planet.

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