This is an artist's conception of the MAVEN spacecraft.
Credit: Lockheed Martin
NASA's next Mars probe is ready for a Monday launch to the Red Planet.
NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution probe (MAVEN for short) is set to launch atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday (Nov. 18) at 1:28 p.m. EST (1828 GMT). You can watch MAVEN's launch on SPACE.com, courtesy of NASA.
"This Wednesday, we just completed our flight readiness review," Omar Baez, NASA launch director at Kennedy Space Center, told reporters during a news briefing today (Nov. 15). "Yesterday we held our mission dress rehearsal and this morning, we completed our NASA launch readiness review. All were very successful." [NASA's MAVEN Mission to Mars (Photos)]
There is a chance that weather problems in Florida might delay MAVEN's launch. At the moment, NASA puts the odds of good weather at 60 percent for Monday, but the odds become less favorable as the week goes on, launch weather officer Clay Flinn said in the briefing.
The spacecraft's launch window officially extends from Nov. 18 to Dec. 7, but if the mission doesn't lift off before Dec. 23, the team will have to wait until January 2016 before Mars and Earth are ideally aligned for another attempt, MAVEN mission managers said.
NASA's MAVEN mission will take about 10 months to reach Mars after launching from Florida. Once in orbit around the Red Planet, the spacecraft will study the planet's upper atmosphere to help scientists determine how Mars turned into the cold desert it is today.
Scientists think that Mars was once a warm, wet world billions of years ago, but at some point in the planet's evolution that changed. Mars' atmosphere was lost to space possibly due to the sun's influence and other factors, and NASA is sending the school bus-sized MAVEN to Mars to look into how the planet actually lost its atmosphere, mission scientists explained.
"If you look outside of the [science] community, there's quite an interest in this mission," Baez said. "You wouldn't think so in that it's not as sexy as the rovers going over the planet, [but] this is kind of like a weather satellite for Mars providing relay and it's real science."
The $671 million MAVEN mission will spend at least one Earth year investigating the Martian atmosphere, and will be the 10th orbiter NASA has launched to Mars. It will join three other probes currently active in orbit around Mars: Mars Odyssey, the European Space Agency's Mars Express and NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.