On November 18, NASA plans to launch a shuttle to explore the upper atmosphere of Mars in more detail than ever before.
The MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution) will look at the processes that led to the loss of much of the Martian atmosphere. Scientists hope to learn much from these processes, including the history of the Martian atmosphere and its habitability.
“The MAVEN mission is a significant step toward unraveling the planetary puzzle about Mars’ past and present environments,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “The knowledge we gain will build on past and current missions examining Mars and will help inform future missions to send humans to Mars.” (Quote from NASA’s press release)
With a ten month journey to the planet and a ten month journey back, the spacecraft will be in orbit around Mars for a year. During this year, the MAVEN will explore various latitudes of the planet and will maneuver five “deep dips,” in which it plunges to the bottom of the planet’s upper atmosphere to collect data.