Success! After a ten-month journey, a NASA robotic spacecraft reached Martian atmosphere on Sunday to gather data that will help scientists figure out how the planet’s climate has changed over time.
There was a delay in confirmation of the spacecraft completing the 442 million mile journey because of the distance between Earth and Mars. About 12 minutes after the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft, known as MAVEN, shut down its engine, the flight control team got word and celebrated with applause and hugs.
“I don’t have any fingernails anymore, but we made it,” Colleen Hartman, NASA deputy director for science at Goddard Space Spaceflight Center, said during a NASA broadcast on MAVEN’s Mars arrival.
MAVEN will measure rates that gases escape the Martian atmosphere into space.
The hope is that this data will help scientists understand what climate changes Mars experienced during the past few billion years, as well as determining whether the planet could have sustained life.
Mars, the planet most like Earth in our solar system, has an atmosphere that is about 100 times thinner than Earth’s. Scientists believe that Mars might have lost 99 percent of its atmosphere over million of years as the planet cooled and its magnetic field broke down.
“By learning the processes that are going on today we hope to extrapolate back and learn about the history of Mars,” MAVEN scientist John Clarke said on NASA Television.
MAVEN joins two other NASA orbiters, two NASA rovers – Curiosity and Opportunity – and a European orbiter working at Mars. An Indian Mars probe is expected to enter Martian atmosphere this week.
NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement that he expects that MAVEN’s work “will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”