NASA GOES TO MARS, AGAIN
By: Deshnee Naidoo
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida, USA recently played host to NASA’s 21st mission to Mars.
According to a press statement released by NASA, the space agency’s newest spacecraft, Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) is on a quest to find out why the planet has lost its atmospheres and liquid water.
MAVEN will spend the next 10 months cruising the solar system before orbiting Mars from where it will release observational instruments which will be captured by Mars’ orbit.
The MAVEN spacecraft bears eight science instruments including solar panels which power the craft.
The spacecraft, at 5,410 pounds (2,450 kilograms), weighs as much as an SUV. From solar wingtip to wingtip, it stretches 37.5 feet (11.4 meters). These come in at a price tag of US$671 million (almost R7 billion).
The spacecraft has been ten years in the making and its launch was much anticipated by the scientists involved in its conception.
“After 10 years of developing the mission concept and then the hardware, it’s incredibly exciting to see MAVEN on its way,” said Bruce Jakosky, the principal investigator of the MAVEN.
“But the real excitement will come in 10 months, when we go into orbit around Mars and can start getting the science results we planned,” said Jakosky in the press statement.
Previous evidence collected by Nasa scientists show that the early atmosphere on Mars was thick enough to hold water and possibly microbial life forms but may have been eroded by the sun.
The main objective for MAVEN is to understand why Mars may have lost its atmosphere over billions of years. By analysing the planet’s upper atmosphere and measuring current rates of atmospheric loss, MAVEN scientists hope to understand how Mars went from being a warm, wet planet to the dry desert world the scientists observe today.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in the press statement that the mission is part of a strategically formed exploration system designed to uncover the secrets and mysteries of the solar system, eventually allowing them to go even farther into space.
“MAVEN joins our orbiters and rovers already at Mars to explore yet another facet of the Red Planet and prepare for human missions there by the 2030s,” Bolden said.
There has been increased interest in Mars over the years especially in terms of what possibilities it opens up to human habitation.
Since the 1960’s, the US have had the monopoly on missions to Mars and have had a 70% success rate. Despite the Russians making repeated attempts at this, they have a poor track record.
India joined the race just two weeks ago when it launched its first-ever spacecraft to Mars.
While the results of that mission will not be seen for another year almost 20 000 Indians have applied for tickets to Mars, joining the more than 200 000 worldwide.