NASA's MAVEN spacecraft was launched successfully Monday. The spacecraft will take 10 months to reach Mars and will begin orbiting the Red Planet on Sept. 22, 2014.
The MAVEN launch could not have gone any smoother for NASA. The space agency reported the spacecraft successfully separating from its fairing, panels that protect it from the heat and wind during launch, followed by the Centaur Main Engine cutoff. The second main engine start was performed at 2:15 p.m. EST and the spacecraft successfully separated from the Atlas V rocket and NASA has confirmed the spacecraft is communicating with ground control.
With MAVEN free from its launch system, the spacecraft deployed its solar panels to recharge its batteries. According to NASA, the spacecraft's three instrument suites will power up in two to three weeks and in 90 days MAVEN's High Gain Antenna, which will be used to communicate with NASA's Deep Space Network, will be pointed toward Earth. With everything going according to plan, NASA's Administrator Charles Bolden congratulated the MAVEN team, who hope that the success will pave the way for a manned mission to Mars, notes the space agency.
MAVEN's launch did have a surprise guest. According to reports, Hugh Laurie ("House") was on hand for the launch and the actor posted a photo of MAVEN lifting off on Twitter. Laurie is starring in "Tomorrowland," directed by Brad Bird, which is filming in Florida.
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This is Maven and it's going to Mars. 35 million miles away. pic.twitter.com/KjGEm7V5NM
— Hugh Laurie (@hughlaurie) November 18, 2013
A video of MAVEN's launch, as well as its separation, can be viewed below. NASA is also holding a press conference, beginning at 4 p.m. EST, to discuss what's next for the space craft and the Mars mission.