NASA’s MAVEN Spacecraft Enters Mars’ Orbit


Mars just acquired a new orbiting robot buddy.

At 7:24 p.m. PDT (10:24 p.m. EDT) on Sunday (Sept. 21), NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft arrived at Mars orbit after an epic 10-month journey to the Red Planet. MAVEN joins an armada of Mars satellites, but it is the first mission to the planet that will study the thin Martian upper atmosphere in mind-blowing detail. The mission won’t only add detail to our increasingly comprehensive knowledge of our solar system neighbor, it will also aid future manned missions.

“As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars’ upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden in a space agency news release. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

MAVEN joins two existing NASA Mars orbiters — the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and Mars Odyssey — and the European Mars Express mission. The Indian Mars Orbiter Mission (MOM) is scheduled to also arrive at Mars on Thursday. The soon-to-be fleet of 5 satellites will continue to support and supplement the science being acquired by NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity and Opportunity as they work on the ground.

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SOURCE: Discovery News, NASA/JPL
Ian O’Neill