GREENBELT, Md., Sept. 22 (UPI) -- One of NASA's newest space probes has reached another milestone in its 10-month-old expedition. NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, or MAVEN, has entered Mars' atmosphere and is now orbiting the Red Planet.
MAVEN was successfully inserted into Mars' orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT on Sunday. Now, after a 442-million-mile interplanetary journey, MAVEN's true mission begins. The spacecraft is set to become the first to intimately observe and measure Mars' upper atmosphere.
"As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars' upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said in a press release issued late Sunday night by the space agency. "It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s."
"This was a very big day for MAVEN," added David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager. "We're very excited to join the constellation of spacecraft in orbit at Mars and on the surface of the Red Planet."
Scientists will still have to wait a few more weeks before MAVEN begins returning any usable data. The science portion of MAVEN's mission won't begin until after it completes its six-week commissioning phase, during which the probe will test its array of instruments and slowly position itself into an optimal orbit.