NASA returns to space with MAVEN, on a mainly meteorological mission to Mars

CAPE CANAVERAL - UPDATE: Maven Mars probe launched successfully at 1:28 p.m.

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It has taken five years to get this Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) ready for liftoff today, but truth be told, the folks around here have been pointing to this exact date almost since the half-billion-dollar-plus project was given the administrative go ahead.

"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 10 months for the Mars scout mounted atop the Atlas V rocket to get near the red planet, at which point it will begin a years-long orbital investigation into Martian weather.

It is hoped that this will not only reveal how that planet changed over time due to its atmospheric attributes, but how we might expect earth -- made of roughly the same stuff and Mars' closest neighbor -- to change down the road.. a road which could lead someday to an adaptable appearance of man on Mars. 

The University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics is leading the leading the research component, but its still up to the crew at the Cape to get it off the ground!

"To look around and see the Launch Vehicle people, the Launch Services folks, Kennedy, al the people from NASA…  The support war have gotten has been incredible," said Bruce Jakosky, the MAVEN Principal Investigator. 

"All I can say is, We're going to Mars!"

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