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First of Two Orbiters Reaches Mars After 10-Month Journey

The first of two orbiters, MAVEN (Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution), began to orbit Mars at 10:24 p.m. EDT Sunday. The second orbiter is expected to arrive at the red planet sometime this week.


The MAVEN orbiter succesfully reached Mars Sunday night, with a second orbiter expected to arrive this week. (Image: MAVEN, Wikimedia)

NASA’s latest mission to Mars – orbiters designed to help scientists reconstruct the history of the planet’s atmosphere and the effect its changes had on habitability – has moved into its initial orbit after a 10-month journey that spanned across 442 million miles, reports CS Monitor.

The second orbiter belongs to interplanetary newcomer India, which launched its Mangalyaan spacecraft on Nov. 5, 2013. The craft passed a test Monday after controllers briefly fired its main engine in preparation for an attempt made on Wednesday to slow the craft in order for Mars’ gravity to draw it in.

If successful, Mangalyaan will join the European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter, as well as the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Mars Odyssey and Mars Reconnaissance orbiters as well as the landers Curiosity and Opportunity. Scientists are working diligently to try to piece together the story of Mars and its shift from a relatively warm, wet, habitable planet with a thick atmosphere early in its history to the chilled desert that can be observed today,

The mission to understand Mars “is really a quest of humanity,” said John Grunseld, associate administrator for NASA’s science mission directorate, during a briefing following MAVEN’s insertion into Mars’ orbit.

MAVEN’s arrival came about with the ignition of its six main engines for a “burn” that lasted 34 minutes and 26 seconds, a little longer than MAVEN’s plan had originally projected.

Starting in a day or two, controllers will gradually shrink MAVEN’s orbit until it takes approximately 4 and ½ hours, bringing the craft within 93 miles of the surface. This is the orbit that MAVEN needs to reach in order to achieve its science goals.

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