MAVEN spacecraft en route to Mars

Maven spacecraft launch

The MAVEN launch. Photo: NASA/Bill Ingalls.

NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft launched from Cape Canaveral earlier this evening, at the start of its 10-month journey to Mars.

MAVEN will explore and examine the planet’s upper atmosphere in the first mission which aims to ascertain when and why Mars has lost most of its atmosphere and surface water. The probe will also examine how the solar wind — believed to have played a role in atmospheric loss — interacts with the atmosphere.

MAVEN will reach Mars, which is close to half a billion miles away, on September 22 2014, and will spend one Earth year collecting data.

If you missed the launch earlier, you can see it here: