A NASA probe is scheduled to launch to Mars today. The Maven orbiter will study the planet’s high atmosphere, to try to understand the processes that have robbed the world of most of its air.

The space agency’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft (MAVEN) is scheduled to launch atop its Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

Controllers at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station have set aside a two-hour launch window that extends from 11:28 to 13:28 local time (16:28-18:28 GMT).

The $671 million MAVEN will investigate the atmosphere of Mars in order to understand what could have happened to the planet in the past. Evidence suggests Mars was once shrouded in a thick blanket of gases that proved the presence of liquid water at its surface. Air pressure is now too low for this.

“We really do believe that at one time Mars was a planet that was not much unlike Earth is today,” NASA chief Charlie Bolden told reporters. “We want to know what happened. What happened to its atmosphere? Did it get scraped off or what? So MAVEN is going to help us understand the interaction of the sun with the Martian atmosphere.”

“Maven will open up its solar arrays and then slew so that they are pointed at the Sun,” explained Guy Beutelschies, the spacecraft operations manager at manufacturer Lockheed Martin. “During cruise, we perform four planned trajectory correction manoeuvres where we fire thrusters to tweak the trajectory so that we arrive at the right place and time to go into orbit around Mars. At that point, we will fire a set of thrusters to slow down the spacecraft and get captured into orbit,” he added.

The 2.4-tonne vehicle carries eight instruments for the purpose: some to study the Sun’s influence at Mars; others to investigate the planet’s atmosphere itself.

Arrival at Mars is timed for 22 September next year.

That primary mission lasts one Earth year (half a Mars year), after which the scientists will need additional financial support to continue the research.

source: voice of russia