Capturing data from Mars

October 25, 2013 •

When NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft powers up on the launch pad for its journey to Mars in mid-November, one University of Colorado Boulder student will be especially pleased to see the spacecraft disappear into the heavens over Cape Canaveral, Fla.

Christopher Fowler, a doctoral student in the astrophysical and planetary sciences department, is one of scores of CU-Boulder students, faculty and other professionals involved in the $670 million Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, a NASA mission being led by CU-Boulder. Fowler’s charge is to help convert data from the MAVEN mission -- which is targeting the atmosphere of the Red Planet to understand how it went from a warm, wet planet suitable for life several billion years ago to a cold dry planet today -- to a format scientists can use.

The MAVEN mission is being led by CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, principal investigator for the project.

Twice a week, engineers from Lockheed Martin of Littleton, Colo., which built the spacecraft and is responsible for mission operations, will upload commands to turn MAVEN toward Earth so the data collected by the instruments can be downloaded. Once the download is complete, the satellite will be turned back toward the sun to keep its solar panels charged.

Fowler helped to write the software that will help scientists build a library of data streamed back from the MAVEN spacecraft so that scientists around the world can have access to the information, paving the way for new discoveries.

“It’s our job to calibrate that data and make sure it really means something so it can be used for scientific research,” said Fowler, a native of Great Britain.

MAVEN is currently slated for launch at 1:27 p.m. on Nov. 18. For more information on MAVEN visit