MAVEN spacecraft enters Mars orbit in search for life

22 Sep 2014

An artist's conception of the MAVEN spacecraft. Image: NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center

The latest NASA spacecraft sent to Mars, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), has entered the red planet’s orbit in the continuing search for previous signs of life.

 The spacecraft will now join a fleet of other craft that were originally sent to orbit the red planet, but the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) craft will be the first craft sent to explore the upper atmosphere of Mars.

The craft took a total of 10 months to reach Mars and will now spend the next six weeks undergoing a six week commissioning phase which will begin testing its equipment before reaching its final orbit coordinates, according to NASA.

Whereas the four rovers sent to Mars have been analysing the planet’s surface, MAVEN will look to analyse the make-up of its ultra-thin atmosphere and try to find out how it has changed over time.

By analysing this, they could be able to determine whether its composition could have affected life on Mars’ surface and even its ability to harbour life.

Basis for future missions

The process of the mission will see MAVEN perform five ‘deep dip’ campaigns to gather measurements from three different heights of the atmosphere to give as wide a scope as possible for examination.

Speaking of the mission’s importance, NASA administrator Charles Bolden said: “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. It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic