The skies over the Red Planet, as The New York Times and others are reporting, are getting downright crowded with satellites from Earth. The latest to set up shop – just ahead of the Indian mission – is the climate-change (and radio-boosting) project called MAVEN:
The spacecraft is healthy and currently in a big, looping 35-hour orbit around Mars, the managers said.
“And now we get to do the science that we’ve been planning for all this time,” said Bruce M. Jakosky, the mission’s principal investigator, who came up with the concept for Maven 11 years ago.
The mission team will spend six weeks turning on and checking systems on Maven — the name is short for Martian Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution — and moving it to its final 4.5-hour orbit before beginning its science measurements in November.
On Monday, Dr. Jakosky, a professor of geological sciences at the University of Colorado, will turn his attention to the coming science measurements. Planetary scientists believe that about four billion years ago, the young Mars was blanketed with a thick layer of air — heat-trapping carbon dioxide, in particular — that kept it warmer and wetter than it is today.
Sometime since then, the air thinned, leaving the surface dry and cold. The air molecules could have escaped to space or been transformed by chemical reactions into rock.
Maven is not the only new visitor to Mars. India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, or MOM, is to swing into orbit on Tuesday night Eastern time.
You can read more about MAVEN on NASA’s site. (No, they don’t explain where the final “N” comes from either.)