What do we want to learn with MAVEN?
The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission (MAVEN) is an orbiter that will reach Mars on September 22, 2014 about 10 months after the launch from Earth November 18, 2013. While MAVEN orbits Mars, it will take samples from the Marian atmosphere at many different heights and at many different seasons to gather data that will help to create a picture of Mars today and to give some indication as to the geologic past of Mars as well. Scientists want to know what happened to the water and where the planet’s thick atmosphere went.
The Colorado Connection
Construction of the MAVEN spacecraft was by Lockheed Martin. The Principal Investigator is Dr. Bruce Jakosky from the University of Colorado. One of the instruments of the Particles and Fields Package and the Remote Sensing Package was built by the University of Colorado at Boulder Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics.
Kennedy Space Center tour:
A special behind the scenes tour was part of our Explore! Training. Our group was escorted through the Vehicle Assembly Building where the rockets, orbiters, landers and rovers are assembled for transport to the launch pad. They have the ability to manipulate the enormous vehicles with cranes and winches strategically placed in the building. The building is also equipped with retractable walkways to enable workers close access to the vehicle. Another special stop on our tour was the launch pad that MAVEN was to depart from.
The Kennedy Space Center Complex:
History of space travel:
I enjoyed learning about the early days of space travel. The placard pictured below demonstrates the importance and power of literature to scientific advancement.
Notice the ideas for early space exploration were “Inspired by the science fiction of Jules Verne and H.G. Wells…” Without imagination, there would be nothing to reach for.
In another part of the visitor complex I was run over by a rover! The staff had a remote control model of a Mars rover to demonstrate the individual tire suspension that allows the rover to climb over obstacles on the surface of Mars. The employee I spoke to explained that the rover on Mars has a camera attached to it as well as other instruments and that when the observing scientist viewed Mars through the camera, they could often tell the rover exactly what to do. However, if the path was unclear, the scientist could tell the rover to make the decision as to how to get to where the scientist wanted it to go. He compared it to having a kid away at college only this kid calls home every day and tells you what he did, if it was good, you feel proud, if he made mistakes, you advise him. Unlike a college kid, he tells the whole truth when he calls.
Bill Nye, president of the planetary society, spoke at the Kennedy Space Center on Sunday, November 17, 2013. As a beloved host of his own show, Bill Nye was well aware of how to keep his audience interested and entertained. He talked about his father who was interested in sundials and sand dials. While his father was studying sun dials on a small island, WWII began and he was a prisoner of war. When his father returned his interest in sundials became an obsession and he wanted to turn the Washington monument into a sundial. With this surprising image, Bill Nye catapulted the audience into telling time on Mars and how scientists refer to a Martian day as a sol.
From Mars time to Mars topography, the science guy wove in and out of topics with grace and humor. He talked about craters on Mars and Earth and how that was the most likely thing to wipe out the dinosaurs. He scoffed incredulously saying that the dinosaurs ruled the Earth for millions of years, then here comes a meteor, and they don’t even try to stop it! He went on to suggest a few ways that we humans might be able to change the trajectory of any large meteor that may threaten Earth in the future.
He also brought up global warming and some suggestions for slowing, stopping and reversing it. The best one that was “so crazy – it just might work” had to do with bubbles. Interested? Go check out Bill Nye on the web for more information.
Banana River visitor center and MAVEN launch
Our group watched the MAVEN launch from the Banana River site. This site afforded an indoor, air conditioned visitor center, with much to see and (of course) stuff to buy. In one part of the center, they had this pod, that delivered the crew of the ill fated Apollo13 mission safely back to earth.
Finally, after great anticipation, the MAVEN launched at the scheduled time on November 18, 2013. Below is a photo from the launch pad where you can see the MAVEN orbiter and the Atlas rocket that propelled it out of Earth’s atmosphere where it will orbit and the second thruster will sling shot it to Mars.