NASA has embarked on its next mission to the red planet today with the launch of its MAVEN Mars orbiter.
MAVEN, short for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, is part of an expanded mission by NASA to explore the planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. It’s the first big exploratory mission to the planet since the very successful Curiosity rover landing back in 2012.
The orbiter launched at around 10:30 a.m. Eastern and will take the good part of a year to reach Mars (September, to be precise). Once it arrives, MAVEN will spend the next 10 months orbiting the planet. The data gathered will help give NASA insight into the history of Mars’ atmosphere and climate and potential habitability.
“Mars is a complicated system, just as complicated as the Earth in its own way,” said MAVEN mission lead Bruce Jakosky in a statement. “You can’t hope, with a single spacecraft, to study all aspects and to learn everything there is to know about it. With MAVEN, we’re exploring the single biggest unexplored piece of Mars so far.”
We’ve embedded videos of both the liftoff and an animated simulation of MAVEN in orbit below.