The MAVEN spacecraft is set to go into a Mars orbit on Sunday

19 Sep

On Sunday NASA (national aeronautics and space administration) will take the next step in finding out if Mars one had an atmosphere much like our own. That is when the spacecraft MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) orbiter will enter the upper atmosphere and orbit the red planet. Over those 2 years MAVEN will test the atmospheric conditions of the planet to find out discover just what happened to the once vibrant atmosphere Mars supported.

“The evidence shows that the Mars atmosphere today is a cold, dry environment, one where liquid water really can’t exist in a stable state,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator, during a mission preview briefing Wednesday at NASA headquarters in Washington. “But it also tells us when we look at older surfaces, that the ancient surfaces had liquid water flowing over it.”

MAVEN journey to Mars began on November 19, 2013 when it blasted off from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Base riding on top of an Atlas V rocket. From there the spacecraft went on a 422 million mile trek speeding through space at a blazing 81,000 kilometers-per-hour (50,331 miles-per-hour) to reach its destination. That 10-month-long journey was just to get to the place were the craft will begin its mission.

The Martian atmosphere won’t be the only focus of MAVEN. About 4 weeks after MAVEN starts its orbit the comet Sliding Spring will come into a close (81,000 miles) pass of the planet. The spacecraft will take the opportunity to look into the mystery of what comets.

“I’m told that the odds of having an approach that close to Mars are about one-in-a-million years,” he said, adding that dust from the comet carries only a “relatively minimal” risk to the spacecraft.

For generations fiction writers have conjured up images of Mars having an Earth-like atmosphere and supporting life. One of the most famous of these stories was the Martian chronicles written by Ray Bradbury in the 1950’s. Growing up on these stories was probably a big influence on why NASA has always had this big interest in the 4th planet in the solar system.

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