10 months and 442 million miles later, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft has completed its journey. At 10:24 pm EDT last night, the MAVEN spacecraft entered Mars orbit.

MAVEN joins a slew of other Martian satellites, but is the first that will extensively cover Mars’ thin upper atmosphere.

NASA Administrator Charles Bolden touched on MAVEN’s mission in a press release. “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,” Bolden added.

Lockheed Martin’s operations center in Littleton, Colorado received confirmation from the MAVEN spacecraft of a successful Mars orbit insertion. Several facilities were used to confirm the orbit insertion. NASA’s Deep Space Network antenna station in Canberra, Australia received the data with Lockheed Martin’s operations center in Littleton and NASA’s JPL facility in Pasadena, California confirmed the data.

What’s next for the MAVEN spacecraft? The science doesn’t happen right away. The spacecraft will now begin a six-week period of moving into final orbit and testing instruments. Once all systems are a go, MAVEN’s one year primary mission begins.

MAVEN will take a variety of measurements of Mars’ upper atmosphere including structure, composition and how it interacts with solar winds and the Sun. Certain parts of the mission called “deep-dip campaigns” will give scientists a complete look of the upper atmosphere. The MAVEN spacecraft will drop to an orbit of 77 miles and will examine the area where the lower atmosphere meets the upper atmosphere.

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“This was a very big day for MAVEN,” said David Mitchell, MAVEN project manager from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “We’re very excited to join the constellation of spacecraft in orbit at Mars and on the surface of the Red Planet. The commissioning phase will keep the operations team busy for the next six weeks, and then we’ll begin, at last, the science phase of the mission.”

“Congratulations to the team for a job well done today.”

Image credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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