NASA announced in February of this year that assembly had completed on its MAVEN spacecraft that was set to travel to Mars. The spacecraft was built by Lockheed Martin and the completion of its construction opened the door for the spacecraft to launch this month. The MAVEN mission is set to launch November 18.
MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft. The mission of the spacecraft is to investigate how Mars transitioned from being a warm and moist world to a cold desert as it is today. India launched its own mission to Mars earlier this month to investigate the Martian atmosphere.
NASA associate administrator John Grunsfeld said:
A maven is a trusted expert based on an accumulation of knowledge who seeks to pass that knowledge onto others. MAVEN, like its entomological origin, will indeed establish the knowledge on which scientists can build a story of the Mars atmosphere and help future human explorers who journey to Mars and the Mars surface.
MAVEN will launch using a United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket from Cape Canaveral in Florida. The spacecraft has a two-hour launch window that opens at 1:28 PM EST on November 18 and the launch will be aired live. NASA says that MAVEN will need 10 months to arrive at Mars.
The spacecraft is expected to insert itself into an elliptical orbit around Mars in September of 2014. The spacecraft is designed to investigate the upper atmosphere of Mars and to help uncover how and why the planet lost its atmosphere. MAVEN cost $671 million to build and could be launched anywhere from November 18 through December 7. If the launch window is missed, it will be two years before the probe can launch.