A U.S. spacecraft has arrived at Mars to study the planet’s upper atmosphere and help scientists answer questions about how its climate has changed over time.
The craft named the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, completed a 10-month, 711 million-kilometer journey late Sunday. This is the project of which Costa Rica-born Sandra Cauffman is the deputy project manager.
The craft will measure the rates at which gases escape the Martian atmosphere into space. NASA says that will allow scientists to calculate how much of the gas the planet has lost throughout its history and understand how a planet that possibly once was home to microbial life has turned into a cold and barren desert world.
Billions of years ago, scientists believe, water coursed over the Red Planet’s face. Today, its arid surface may be a textbook on how solar heat not only evaporated that liquid, but also thinned the atmosphere by bleeding off nitrogen and carbon dioxide.
MAVEN will take six weeks to settle into its orbit around Mars and test its instruments before beginning the one-year mission, which carries a price tag of $671 million.
There are three other spacecraft currently orbiting Mars, two American and one European. Another from India is due to arrive Wednesday.