Following a decade of work from the birth of an idea to a finished spacecraft, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, or MAVEN, mission to Mars being led by the University of Colorado Boulder has arrived in Florida for a slated November launch.
“We are now on the final journey to the launch pad,” said CU-Boulder Professor Bruce Jakosky of the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics, principal investigator for the project. “It doesn’t get more exciting than that.”
The spacecraft was shipped aboard a U.S. Air Force cargo plane from Buckley Air Force Base in Aurora, Colo., to the Shuttle Landing Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Fla. late last week. Lockheed Martin had previously assembled and tested MAVEN in its Littleton, Colo. facility.
The mission will be the first devoted to understanding the Martian atmosphere, targeting the role that the loss of atmospheric gases to space played in changing the climate through time, explained Jakosky, also a professor in CU-Boulder’s geological sciences department.
CU-Boulder has a big role in the mission that includes providing science operations, science instruments and leading the education and public outreach program. The MAVEN science team includes three LASP scientists heading instrument teams -- Nick Schneider, Frank Eparvier and Robert Ergun -- as well as a supporting team of scientists, engineers, mission operations specialists and students.
After final testing and fueling, MAVEN will move to Launch Complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. A United Launch Alliance V-401 rocket will launch the Mars orbiter on its interplanetary trajectory.
The Martian surface, including features resembling dry lakes and riverbeds as well as minerals that form only in the presence of water, suggest Mars once had a much denser atmosphere that supported liquid water on the surface, said Jakosky. “We think that Mars was probably much more Earth-like roughly 4 billion years ago. We want to know how the climate changed, where the water went and what happened to the atmosphere.”
One of the hallmarks of LASP is the involvement of students in every aspect of its space missions, including MAVEN, said Jakosky. “At LASP we have about 120 students working on different aspects of flight projects ranging from engineering and spacecraft operations to data management and science analysis,” he said. “When these students graduate, they find themselves very much in demand around the country because they have tremendous experience.”
In addition to the Colorado contributions to the mission, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., is managing the project and provided two of the science instruments for the mission. The University of California, Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory provided a science instrument package for MAVEN and NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., is providing navigation support, the Deep Space Network and the other relay hardware and operations.
For updates, photos and more about the MAVEN journey visit CU-Boulder's social media collection at http://www.colorado.edu/social/maven-mars.