CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - The weather held off Monday for what would be a picture-perfect launch of a meteorological mission to Mars. One that went largely "by-the-numbers."
And after five years of planning, over $670 million in investment, and a final count backwards from ten.
"Main engine start..." came the word from Mission Control, as the rocket's engines sparked to life.
"Ignition and lift off of the Atlas V with MAVEN, looking for clues of the evolution of Mars through its atmosphere."
Right on time, as the launch window opened, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission thundered skyward, covering the first few feet of an estimated 35 million mile trip to the red planet.
"MAVEN is one more step in our journey toward putting humans on the surface of Mars," said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. It's a very important step because it's going to help us understand much more than we have ever understood about Mars' upper atmosphere."
It'll take more than ten months for the unmanned scout to get near the red planet… at which point, it'll begin a 52 week orbital investigation into Martian weather.
Researchers tell me that this is as important as any expedition in figuring out exactly how and why Mars' atmosphere adapted and changed over millions of years.
"So as we understand the weather that's happened in the past and the weather that's happening now, we get a good look at the effects of the star that is the center of our solar system," explained Dr. Pamela Conrad, with the research team that has already been at work on this project since 2008.
"That helps us understand a little bit better the processes that happen at the top of our atmosphere."
The University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics laid the groundwork to get all the scientific stuff--from the antennas and solar cells to analyzers for winds, payload platforms and magnetometers -- stuffed inside the slightly smaller than a school-bus MAVEN module. It'll be controlled remotely and send back data as it gets it.
"In the end, all of these robotic missions are about people doing science," said John Grunsfeld, NASA's Associate Administrator for Science.
"And the last time I checked -- being a scientist at least people tell me I am human as are the other people on the science team."
Indeed a lot of scientists all over the world will be watching this research and the discoveries of how Mars has adapted to the space atmosphere. This COULD provide clues to the ever changing earth adaptations as we move forward in time.