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NASA launches MAVEN spacecraft

The spacecraft will orbit Mars to study how the sun stripped it of its atmosphere.
By Ananth Baliga Follow @antbaliga Contact the Author   |   Nov. 18, 2013 at 10:35 AM
Nov 18 (UPI) -- NASA will launch the MAVEN mission to Mars on Monday to investigate how a once habitable planet to microbial life is not a cold and barren desert.

MAVEN, short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, is one part of NASA's Mars Scout program, and the orbiter will gather data from Mars' higher atmosphere.

The spacecraft will launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Fla., at 1:28 p.m. EST. This will be the agency's first mission to study the atmosphere of the planet, and will hopefully reveal the atmosphere's history and how fast it is being lost.

"MAVEN won’t answer the question about life, but it will answer the question about the how environment has changed over time. This is a very important part of the puzzle," said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator of the mission.

Unlike the Mars Curiosity Rover, the MAVEN will not make a landing on the surface of the Mars and will instead orbit the planet, 93 miles above the surface, making five dives to 77 miles above the surface.

The 5622 pound spacecraft will take 10 months to reach Mars, and then after a 5-week testing period it will start recording measurements.

NASA says the mission will cost $671 million. You can watch the launch streaming online beginning at 11 a.m. EST via NASA.

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