Two different spacecraft have entered Martian territory to study the planet’s atmosphere and look for potential signs of life, authorities announced Sunday.
According to NASA, its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft successfully entered Mars’ orbit at 10:24 p.m. EDT on Sunday, where it will make the first observations about the red planet’s tenuous upper atmosphere. Meanwhile, India’s maiden Mars mission, called “Mangalyaan,” also entered the planet’s neighborhood to explore its surface, the Indian Space Research Organisation, or ISRO, announced Sunday.
“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,” NASA administrator Charles Bolden said in a statement. “It also will better inform a future mission to send humans to the Red Planet in the 2030s.”
According to NASA, confirmation of MAVEN’s success in joining the planet's orbit was received from the spacecraft at the Lockheed Martin operations center in Littleton, Colorado, as well as from tracking data monitored at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory navigation facility in Pasadena, California.
MAVEN, which has entered Mars’ orbit after completing a 10-month journey, will take nearly six weeks to maneuver into its final orbit and test its instruments. After that, the spacecraft will begin its primary mission, spanning one Earth-year, when it will take measurements of the composition, structure and the escape of gases in Mars’ upper atmosphere. MAVEN will also study Mars’ interaction with the sun and solar winds.
India’s “Mangalyaan,” which was also launched last November, has entered Mars’ territory and will complete a 300-day journey to reach the planet’s orbit on Wednesday.
— ISRO (@isro) September 22, 2014
If “Mangalyaan” reaches its target, India will become the fourth country after the U.S., Russia and the UK to have successfully completed a Mars mission, BBC News reported, citing Pallava Bagla, a science journalist, and added that Mars’ gravity had “started acting on the orbiter and it (Mangalyaan) would gather more speed” before it enters the planet’s orbit.
The $72 million Mangalyaan spacecraft weighs nearly 3,000 pounds and contains five instruments, including a sensor to track methane gas, a color camera and a thermal imaging spectrometer to map the surface and its composition.