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NASA gears up for next mission to Mars

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An artistic illustration of MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. A NASA image

WASHINGTON (BNS): Even as its Curiosity rover completes a year on Mars today, NASA is all set to launch its next Martian mission.

The space agency is preparing to launch the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) mission to the Red Planet in November following the delivery of the spacecraft to the Kennedy Space Center on Aug. 2.

The orbiter, built by Lockheed Martin, will undergo three-and-a-half months of final processing in preparation for its launch aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V -401 rocket.

The mission has a 20-day launch period opening on Nov. 18.

The MAVEN will be the first-ever mission to survey the upper atmosphere of Mars in an effort to understand the role that the loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate.

The data obtained from the mission will help scientists reconstruct the Red Planet's past climate. Scientists will use MAVEN data to project how Mars became the cold, dusty desert planet we see today, NASA said.

The planned one-year mission begins with the spacecraft entering the Red Planet's orbit in September 2014, the space agency said.

"MAVEN is not going to detect life. But it will help us understand the climate history, which is the history of its habitability," said Bruce Jakosky, planetary scientist at the University of Colorado Boulder and MAVEN's principal investigator.

NASA had launched its Curiosity rover to Mars in November 2011. The car-sized, six-wheeled rover achieved a historic feat when it touched down on the Martian surface on August 6, 2012.

The mission has already achieved its main science goal of revealing ancient Mars could have supported life, NASA announced last week.

Tags:

Mars  MAVEN  Spacecraft  NASA  Curiosity  
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