Ro­botic ex­plorer headed to Mars

Sci­en­tists seek insight on red planet’s rad­i­cal cli­mate change

The Washington Times Daily - - Nation - BY MAR­CIA DUNN THE WASH­ING­TON TIMES

CAPE CANAVERAL, FLA. | NASA’s new­est ro­botic ex­plorer, Maven, rock­eted to­ward Mars on Mon­day on a quest to un­ravel the an­cient mys­tery of the red planet’s rad­i­cal cli­mate change.

The Maven space­craft is due at Mars next fall af­ter a jour­ney of more than 440 mil­lion miles.

Sci­en­tists want to know why Mars went from be­ing warm and wet dur­ing its first bil­lion year to cold and dry to­day. The early Mar­tian at­mos­phere was thick enough to hold wa­ter and pos­si­bly sup­port mi­cro­bial life. But much of that at­mos­phere may have been lost to space, eroded by the sun.

Maven set off through a cloudy sky Mon­day af­ter­noon in its ef­fort to pro­vide an­swers. An un­manned At­las V rocket put the space­craft on the proper course for Mars, and launch con­trollers ap­plauded and shook hands over the suc­cess.

An es­ti­mated 10,000 NASA guests gath­ered for the launch, the most ex­cit­ing one of the year from Cape Canaveral. The Univer­sity of Colorado at Boul­der, which is lead­ing the Maven ef­fort, was rep­re­sented by a cou­ple of thou­sand peo­ple.

“We’re just ex­cited right now,” said the univer­sity’s Bruce Jakosky, prin­ci­pal sci­en­tist for Maven, “and hop­ing for the best.”

To help solve this en­vi­ron­men­tal puz­zle at the neigh­bor­ing planet, Maven will spend an en­tire Earth year mea­sur­ing at­mo­spheric gases once it reaches Mars on Sept. 22.

This is NASA’s 21st mis­sion to Mars since the 1960s. But it’s the first one de­voted to study­ing the Mar­tian up­per at­mos­phere. The mis­sion costs $671 mil­lion. Maven — short for Mars At­mos­phere and Volatile Evo­lu­tion, with a cap­i­tal “N” in Evo­lu­tioN — bears eight sci­ence in­stru­ments. The space­craft, at 5,410 pounds, weighs as much as an SUV. From so­lar wingtip to wingtip, it stretches 37.5 feet, about the length of a school bus.

A ques­tion un­der­ly­ing all of NASA’s Mars mis­sions to date is whether life could have started on what now seems to be a bar­ren world.

“We don’t have that an­swer yet, and that’s all part of our quest for try­ing to an­swer, ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ in a much broader sense,” said John Grunsfeld, NASA’s sci­ence mis­sion di­rec­tor.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.