Valdosta Daily Times

National, International News

November 19, 2013

Mars probe launched

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — NASA’s newest robotic explorer, Maven, rocketed toward Mars on Monday on a quest to unravel the ancient mystery of the red planet’s radical climate change.

The Maven spacecraft is due at Mars next fall following a journey of more than 440 million miles.

“Hey, guys, we’re going to Mars!” Maven’s principal scientist, Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado at Boulder, told reporters after liftoff.

Jakosky and others want to know why Mars went from being warm and wet during its first billion years to cold and dry today. The early Martian atmosphere was thick enough to hold water and possibly support microbial life. But much of that atmosphere may have been lost to space, eroded by the sun.

Maven set off through a cloudy afternoon sky in its bid to provide answers. An unmanned Atlas V rocket put the spacecraft on the proper course for Mars, and launch controllers applauded and shook hands over the success.

“What a Monday at the office,” NASA project manager David Mitchell said. “Maybe I’m not showing it, but I’m euphoric.”

Ten years in the making, Maven had Nov. 18, 2013, as its original launch date, “and we hit it,” Mitchell said.

“I just want to say, ‘Safe travels, Maven. We’re with you all the way.”’

Jakosky, Maven’s mastermind, said he was anxious and even shaking as the final seconds of the countdown ticked away. An estimated 10,000 NASA guests gathered for the liftoff — the most exciting one of the year from Cape Canaveral — including a couple thousand representing the University of Colorado.

Surviving liftoff was the first big hurdle, Jakosky said. The next huge milestone will be Maven’s insertion into orbit around Mars on Sept. 22, 2014.

To help solve Mars’ environmental puzzle, Maven will spend an entire Earth year measuring atmospheric gases.

This is NASA’s 21st mission to Mars since the 1960s. But it’s the first one devoted to studying the Martian upper atmosphere.

The mission costs $671 million.

Maven — short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, with a capital “N” in EvolutioN — bears eight science instruments. The spacecraft, at 5,410 pounds, weighs as much as an SUV. From solar wingtip to wingtip, it stretches 37.5 feet, about the length of a school bus.

A question underlying all of NASA’s Mars missions to date is whether life could have started on what now seems to be a barren world.

“We don’t have that answer yet, and that’s all part of our quest for trying to answer, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ in a much broader sense,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s science mission director.

Unlike the 2011-launched Curiosity rover, Maven will conduct its experiments from orbit around Mars.

Maven will dip as low as 78 miles above the Martian surface, sampling the atmosphere. The lopsided orbit will stretch as high as 3,864 miles.

Curiosity’s odometer reads 2.6 miles after more than a year of roving the red planet. An astronaut could accomplish that distance in about a day on the Martian surface, Grunsfeld noted.

Grunsfeld, a former astronaut, said considerable technology is needed, however, before humans can fly to Mars in the 2030s, NASA’s ultimate objective.

Mars remains an intimidating target even for robotic craft, more than 50 years after the world’s first shot at the red planet.

Fourteen of NASA’s previous 20 missions to Mars have succeeded, beginning with the 1964-launched Mariner 4, a Martian flyby. The U.S. hasn’t logged a Mars failure, in fact, since the late 1990s.

That’s a U.S. success rate of 70 percent. No other country comes close. Russia has a poor track record involving Mars, despite repeated attempts dating to 1960.

India became the newest entry to the Martian market two weeks ago with its first launch to Mars.

If all goes well, Maven will cruise past India’s Mars voyager, called Mangalyaan, or “Mars craft” in Hindi. Maven should beat Mangalyaan to Mars by two days next September, Mitchell said.

“It’s kind of a neat race, and we wish them all the best,” Mitchell said.

Earth and Mars line up properly for a Mars flight every two years, occasionally resulting in just this sort of traffic jam. The two planets are constantly on the move, thus the 440 million-mile-plus chase by Maven to Mars over the next 10 months.

Maven’s science instruments will be turned on in the next few weeks. During the second week of December, the University of Colorado’s ultraviolet spectrograph will try to observe Comet ISON, now visible and brightening in the night sky as it speeds toward the sun.

ISON will zip within 730,000 miles of the sun on Thanksgiving Day. Astronomers are uncertain whether the comet will survive that blisteringly close encounter.

Comets have many of the same gases as the Martian atmosphere, observed the chief scientist for Maven’s ultraviolet instrument, Nick Schneider.

“What an ideal opportunity for us to try out our instrument and do some good science along the way,” Schneider said.

1
Text Only
National, International News
  • AP4507280123 copy.jpg Today in History for Monday, July 28, 2014
    Today is Monday, July 28, the 209th day of 2014. There are 156 days left in the year. 
     

    July 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Tentative deal reached on VA reform

    The chairmen of the House and Senate Veterans Affairs committees have reached a tentative agreement on a plan to fix a veterans’ health program scandalized by long patient wait times and falsified records covering up delays.

    July 27, 2014

  • United States-Libya_Rich.jpg US evacuates embassy in Libya amid clashes

    The United States shuttered its embassy in Libya on Saturday and evacuated its diplomats to neighboring Tunisia under U.S. military escort as fighting intensified between rival militias. Secretary of State John Kerry said “free-wheeling militia violence” prompted the move.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP9607270692 copy.jpg Today in History for Sunday, July 27, 2014

    Today is Sunday, July 27, the 208th day of 2014. There are 157 days left in the year.

    July 27, 2014 1 Photo

  • No ticket for Shrek over loud musical, chief says

    A musical being performed in a New Hampshire park has drawn some noise complaints, but the deputy police chief says he’s “not giving Shrek a ticket.”

    July 26, 2014

  • Arizona Execution Dru_Rich copy.jpg Arizona’s McCain: Execution was torture

    U.S. Sen. John McCain says the execution of an Arizona inmate that lasted two hours was torture.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Ukraine Plane_Rich copy.jpg US: Russia firing into Ukraine

    Russia is launching artillery attacks from its soil on Ukrainian troops and preparing to move heavier weaponry across the border, the U.S. and Ukraine charged Friday in what appeared to be an ominous escalation of the crisis.
    Russia accused Washington of lying and charged Ukraine with firing across the border on a Russian village. It also toughened its economic measures against Ukraine by banning dairy imports.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • AP7107260254 copy.jpg Today in History for Saturday, July 26, 2014

    Today is Saturday, July 26, the 207th day of 2014. There are 158 days left in the year.

    July 26, 2014 1 Photo

  • Mideast Iraq_Rich copy.jpg Iraq elects new president amid attacks

    Iraqi lawmakers elected a veteran Kurdish politician on Thursday to replace long-serving Jalal Talabani as the country’s new president in the latest step toward forming a new government. But a series of attacks killed dozens of people and Islamic militants destroyed a Muslim shrine traditionally said to be the burial place of the Prophet Jonah, underscoring the overwhelming challenges facing the divided nation.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

  • Hong Kong Shutdown_Rich copy.jpg Hong Kong firms on edge as blockade looms

    As activists vow to shut down Hong Kong’s financial district in protest at China’s attempt to hobble democratic elections in the city, businessman Bernard Chan is preparing for the worst.

    July 25, 2014 1 Photo

Top News
Poll

Do you agree with the millage rate increases?

Yes. We need to maintain services
No. Services should have been cut.
     View Results