NASA`s Maven probe to reveal why Mars lost its atmosphere
Johannesburg: NASA is set to launch its Maven probe to Mars next month to find out why the Red Planet lost much of its atmosphere.
The unmanned spaceship is scheduled to leave Earth on 18 November at 13:38 (1739 GMT), News24 reported.
The 10-month journey to Mars means that if all goes well, the probe will arrive in late September 2014, and will begin its yearlong orbiting mission in November, space agency scientists said.
It will soar at an altitude of 6,115km above Mars`s surface, and dip down to 125km five times during the mission.
Maven, which stands for the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution mission has three suites of instruments to detect changes in Mars` upper atmosphere.
However, it will not hunt for methane, a gas which signals the presence of living microbes or organic materials.
NASA`s Curiosity rover is patrolling the surface of Mars and has found only trace amounts of methane in the Martian atmosphere, disappointing those who hoped to find higher levels, indicating the presence of some life forms there.
Still, scientists said Maven may add to knowledge of what Mars was like before the Sun conspired to strip it of its atmosphere.
The 2 453kg spacecraft will launch aboard an Atlas V 401 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.
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