When NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) mission is launched in November 2013, it will carry a DVD bearing the names of ordinary members of the public to the realm of the Red Planet. The disc forms part of the mission’s Going to Mars Campaign, co-ordinated at the University of Colorado at Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP).
Last week, NASA invited the public to submit their names, as well as messages in the form of three-line haiku poetry, and pledged that the DVD will carry every name submitted. The deadline for submissions is 1 July. An online public vote will determine the top three messages to be placed on the DVD, beginning on 15 July. “The Going to Mars campaign offers people worldwide a way to make a personal connection to space, space exploration, and science in general,” said Stephanie Renfrow, lead for the MAVEN Education and Public Outreach program at CU/LASP. Participants who submit their names will be able to print a certificate of appreciation to document their involvement in the mission.
Built by Lockheed Martin, with major involvement from the University of Colorado at Boulder, the University of California at Berkeley, and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center of Greenbelt, Md., MAVEN is scheduled to launch at some point between 18 November and 7 December, beginning a ten-month voyage to Mars. The 1,990-pound spacecraft will be boosted toward the Red Planet by United Launch Alliance’s venerable Atlas V rocket, flying in its “401” configuration from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Fla. Assuming an on-time launch, MAVEN will enter orbit around Mars on 22 September 2014.
From this highly elliptical orbit, which will bring the spacecraft as close as 93 miles and as far as 3,900 miles from the planet, MAVEN will utilize a sophisticated array of instruments to study the red-hued atmosphere. It is known that at some point in its ancient past, Mars had a much thicker atmosphere than it does today—an atmosphere which was warm enough for liquid water to flow on the surface—but over a span of several million years about 99 percent of this gaseous veil was lost as the planet’s core cooled and its magnetic field decayed. One of the key questions for MAVEN is to determine the processes by which this atmospheric loss occurred and how it rendered Mars increasingly inhospitable to life.
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