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NASA spacecraft enters Mars’ orbit to explore atmosphere

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Washington, Sep 22 (IANS) After 10-month journey of 442 million mile, NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission entered into Mars orbit, the US space agency has said.

After a 33-minute engine firing, mission controllers received acknowledgment at about 10.25 p.m. that MAVEN was into the orbit, it said on Sunday night.

MAVEN is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars, answering important questions about the planet’s history and climate.

These observations will help scientists determine how much gas from Mars’ atmosphere has been lost to space throughout the planet’s history and which processes have driven that loss.

"We are the first mission devoted to observing the upper atmosphere of Mars and how it interacts with the Sun and the solar wind," said Bruce Jakosky, a principal investigator for MAVEN at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

This milestone marks the culmination of 11 years of concept and development for MAVEN, setting the stage for the mission’s science phase, which will investigate Mars as no other mission has.

"Every day at Mars is gold. The early checks of instrument and spacecraft systems during cruise phase enable us to move into the science collection phase shortly after MAVEN arrives at Mars," added David Mitchell, MAVEN’s project manager at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.

Following orbit insertion, MAVEN will begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes manoeuvring the spacecraft into its final orbit and testing its instruments and science mapping commands.

Thereafter, MAVEN will begin its one-Earth-year primary mission to take measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere and its interaction with the Sun and the solar wind.

MAVEN was launched on Nov 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying three instrument packages.

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