NASA approves Mars mission, MAVEN

NASA announced today that the University of Colorado at Boulder-led mission to Mars to investigate how the planet lost much of its atmosphere eons ago has been approved by the space agency to move into the development stage.

The effort, known as the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, mission, will probe the past climate of Mars, including its potential for harboring life over the ages. CU-Boulder's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics is leading the mission, which will carry three instrument suites to probe the atmosphere of Mars and its interactions with the sun, said LASP Associate Director Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator on the mission.

"A better understanding of the upper atmosphere and the loss of volatile compounds like carbon dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and water to space is required to plug a major hole in our understanding of Mars," said Jakosky, also a professor in the geological sciences department. "We're really excited about having the opportunity to address these fundamental science questions."

CU-Boulder's LASP team also will provide science operations, build two of the science instruments and lead education and public outreach efforts for the MAVEN mission.

Clues on the Martian surface, including features resembling dry riverbeds and minerals that only form in the presence of water, suggest Mars once had a denser atmosphere that supported the presence of liquid water on the surface. Since most of the atmosphere was lost as part of a dramatic climate change, MAVEN will make definitive scientific measurements of present-day atmospheric loss that will offer insight into the Red Planet's history.

Michael Luther, on behalf of Ed Weiler of the NASA Headquarters Science Mission Directorate, led a confirmation review panel that approved the detailed plan, instrument suite and budget for the mission.