WASHINGTON – NASA said Monday it is on track to launch its Maven probe to Mars this month to find out why the red planet lost much of its atmosphere.
The unmanned spaceship is scheduled to leave Earth on Nov. 18.
The 10-month journey to Mars means that if all goes well, the probe will arrive in late September 2014, and will begin its yearlong orbiting mission in November, space agency scientists said.
It will soar at an altitude of 6,115 km above Mars’ surface, and dip down to 125 km five times during the mission.
Maven, which stands for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission, has three suites of instruments to detect changes in Mars’ upper atmosphere. However, it will not hunt for methane, a gas that signals the presence of living microbes or organic materials.
NASA’s Curiosity rover is patrolling the surface of Mars and has found only trace amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere, disappointing those who hoped to find higher levels, indicating the presence of some life forms there.