NASA's MAVEN spacecraft has been given the go to launch Monday on a mission to help scientists figure out what happened to all of the water that once flowed on the Martian surface.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft is set to lift off atop an Atlas V rocket at 1:28 p.m. ET on Monday, Nov. 18 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
MAVEN is NASA's first spacecraft devoted entirely to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. It is slated to orbit the Red Planet on a path that allows it to pass through and sample the entire upper atmosphere on every single orbit.
The spacecraft will investigate how the loss of Mars' atmosphere determined the history of water on the surface, according to the space agency.
Thanks to NASA's robotic Mars rover Curiosity, scientists now know that ancient water flows once coursed across the surface of the planet. They even know that some water still exists in the Martian soil.
Scientists will use the data MAVEN sends back to Earth to determine the role that the loss of volatile elements like hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen and the noble gases from the Mars atmosphere to space has played through time. The information is expected to give researchers insight into the history of Mars' atmosphere and climate, liquid water and planetary habitability.
The spacecraft will carry at least eight scientific instruments, including one to measure solar particles, a solar wind analyzer and other tools to measure ultraviolet light and neutral gas.
Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, on Google+ or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.