On October 4 2010, when nations were inaugurating the 11th World Space Week, and also observing the 53rd anniversary of the Sputnik launch, an event occured which marked an important milestone in Nasa's unmanned mission to Mars.
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission, Maven for short, passed what is known as the mission confirmation review on October 4. It was initially selected by Nasa on September 15,2008, and the passing of the mission confirmation review in layman's term could mean that the space agency has given its final `go' for the development and launch of the flight. Lockheed Martin will build the spacecraft and handle flight operations.
The significance of the 438 million dollar Maven mission, slated for launch between November 18 and December 2013 from the Kennedy Space Centre, can be gauged by a statement by its principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, who said: ``We've never sent a spacecraft just to study its (Mars) atmosphere. Where did the atmosphere go?'' he has asked. He said that Mars was once habitable. The mission will try and find out why it has turned inhabitable. The primary role of the flight is to study Martian atmosphere and climate change.
Project scientist, Joseph Grebowsky, has been quoted as saying that Maven will examine ways the ``sun is swiping the Martian atmosphere.'' According to him, the lead suspect in the loss of the atmosphere is the sun mainly through its solar wind---a million miles per hour stream of charged particles.
Images from Mars' surface indicate that there was liquid water present which would have needed a warmer and thicker atmosphere sometime in the past. Keeping this scenario, the Maven spacecraft will probe the upper atmosphere of the Red Planet and its interactions with the sun to learn how the Martian atmosphere behaves in the context of solar activity. With this information scientists will be able to recreate the history of Mars atmosphere focussing on what it was and what happened to it.
Maven's design will be based on those of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the Mars Odyssey spacecraft.
The University of Colorado, Boulder, the University of California, Berkeley and the Goddard Space Flight Centre will each build a suite of instruments for the spacecraft. In all there will be three science instruments. After launch in November-December 2013, the spacecraft will fly into the Martian atmosphere on September 16,2014.
The launch will take place the same year India's second mission to the moon, ``Chandrayaan-2,'' and China's third lunar mission, ``Chang'e-3'' will lift off. One thing--a recent article by none other than director of the Ahmedabad-based Physical Research Laboratory, J.N.Goswami, said that if India launches a mission to Mars its role would be to study its atmosphere.
I wonder what will be the difference between the Maven and Indian the mission to the Red Planet? .