Washington: With an aim to study the Red Planet's upper atmosphere as never done before, NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft successfully entered the Martian orbit late Sunday.
MAVEN, which completed a 10-month journey covering 442 million miles, is the first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the upper atmosphere of Mars.
"As the first orbiter dedicated to studying Mars' upper atmosphere, MAVEN will greatly improve our understanding of the history of the Martian atmosphere, how the climate has changed over time, and how that has influenced the evolution of the surface and the potential habitability of the planet," said NASA administrator Charles Bolden.
"It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s," he added.
MAVEN will complement NASA's other Martian robotic explorers - and those of our partners around the globe - to answer some fundamental questions about Mars and life beyond the Earth, Bolden said.
"NASA has a long history of scientific discovery at Mars and the safe arrival of MAVEN opens another chapter," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's Headquarters in Washington, DC.
Following orbit insertion, MAVEN will begin a six-week commissioning phase that includes manoeuvering into its final orbit and testing the instruments and science-mapping commands.
MAVEN then will begin its one-Earth-year primary mission, taking measurements of the composition, structure and escape of gases in Mars' upper atmosphere and its interaction with the Sun and solar wind.
"Every day at Mars is gold. The early checks of instrument and spacecraft systems during cruise phase enable us to move into the science collection phase shortly after MAVEN arrives at Mars," added David Mitchell, MAVEN's project manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Centre in Greenbelt, Maryland.
MAVEN was launched Nov 18, 2013, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, carrying three instrument packages: the particles and fields package, the remote sensing package, and the neutral gas and ion mass spectrometer.