Scientists ready to discover more about our closest neighbor: MARS

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - Time was that heading over to Cape Canaveral for a launch was a pretty common, yet cool, assignment.

To see and feel a rocket leave this world to learn about what else is out here.

An unmanned rocket is taking off on a mission to Mars on Monday, which, as we find out from one of NASA's most prolific rocket scientists, is a very important destination.

"Mars is our closest neighbor in the solar system and we were made at the same time, out of the same stuff.  But we're very different places," said Dr. Pamela (Pan) Conrad, a prolific NASA investigator -- and lead researcher for the mission to Mars.

"We really try to understand as much as we can about Mars, because not only does it teach us about our own past and possible future, but it also tells us something about how unique Earth may or may not be."

Dr. Conrad's team has been working on the interplanetary investigation for years now, and has already claimed success with last summer's deployment  of the "Curiosity" rover.

"Curiosity has been roving Mars since the 5th of August, 2012, so its got a lot more to go.  (It's) doing a great job on the surface, and one of the reasons we send Maven is to understand the top of the atmosphere."

MAVEN Is a NASA acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN spacecraft.  The $485 million mission was given a green light by the space agency in 2008.

It'll be fired into space aboard an Atlas V rocket Monday afternoon, on what will me a mainly meteorological mission.  (Watch the live broadcast from NASA beginning at 12:00 Monday afternoon in the video player below)

"So essentially, MAVEN is going to be like one of our weather satellites, almost?" I asked.

"That is a fabulous analogy!" exclaimed Dr. Conrad.  "MAVEN is exactly like that, only instead of looking at weather on the surface of Mars where we see the dust storms and the clouds and the winds, MAVEN's going to look at the weather that's initiated by the solar winds."

"So," I pressed, "that's going to be a very interesting contrast to what we're getting here on Earth, so the more we know about Martian weather, maybe the more we can figure out about ours?

"That's absolutely true," said Dr. Conrad.  "All scientists love weather because of its dynamic nature.  So as we understand the weather that has happened in the past and what's happening now we get a good look at the effects of the star that is at the center of our solar system and that helps us understand the process that happens at the top of our solar system that -- as a weather forecaster -- you probably don't have too much opportunity to examine.

Weather permitting, the launch of MAVEN is set for 1:28 pm Monday.  Coverage begins at noon.


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