NASA’s MAVEN spacecraft enters orbit around Mars

Video: MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet

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The Independent Online

NASA is another step closer to finding out what happened to water on Mars.

The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft entered the Red Planet's orbit late on Sunday after a ten-month, 442 million mile journey.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft to explore Mars' upper atmosphere and over the next six weeks it will slowly be manoeuvred into its final orbit for the year-long mission.

“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,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden.

Bolden also said that data collected by MAVEN will also help in NASA's attempts to send humans to Mars by the 2030s. During its year-long mission, MAVEN will take measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere.

Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN's principal investigator, spoke of his delight at MAVEN entering Mars' atmosphere, stressing that it was 11 years since the original concept of MAVEN was discussed.

“I'm delighted to be here safely and successfully, and looking forward to starting our science mission," Jakosky said.

MAVEN was launched last November from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.