Us humans are surprisingly familiar with Mars’ surface, yet we haven’t studied its higher altitudes — an odd discrepancy when the sky plays as much of a role as the soil in determining the planet’s climate. We’ll get a better balance in our research now that NASA and Lockheed Martin have finished constructing the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution probe, or MAVEN. The robot craft will learn how quickly the Martian atmosphere is escaping into space and give us a better idea of how the planet’s arid landscape came to be. Lockheed Martin still needs to conduct space simulation tests and ship MAVEN to the Kennedy Space Center, but the ship should launch in November and deliver results roughly a year later; that’s a quick turnaround for a probe that could answer riddles spanning millions of years.
Filed under: Robots, Science