SCIENCE
09/21/2014 11:17 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2014

NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft Nails Mars 'Orbit Insertion'

Welcome to Mars, Maven!

After an epic 10-month, 442-million mile journey, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has finally reached the red planet.

“This was a very big day for MAVEN,” David Mitchell, a project manager for the MAVEN mission at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, said in a written statement. “We’re very excited to join the constellation of spacecraft in orbit at Mars and on the surface of the Red Planet... Congratulations to the team for a job well done today.”

The spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on Nov. 18, 2013. It entered into Mars' orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT on Sept. 21.

MAVEN is the first mission to study Mars' upper atmosphere. Over the next six weeks, plans call for MAVEN to test its instruments and move into its final elliptical orbit, where it will study gases in the Martian atmosphere and the rate at which they escape into outer space. Scientists hope MAVEN data will give them new insights into the evolution of the Martian climate and confirm whether Mars was once able to support life.

“MAVEN is another NASA robotic scientific explorer that is paving the way for our journey to Mars,” Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington, said in a written statement. “Together, robotics and humans will pioneer the Red Planet and the solar system to help answer some of humanity’s fundamental questions about life beyond Earth.”

MAVEN is far from being the only probe orbiting Mars. The agency's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has been circling the red planet since 2001, and the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been in orbit since 2006. The European Space Agency's Mars Express orbiter is there, and India's Mars Orbiter Mission is on the way.

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