NASA launched its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution spacecraft (better known as MAVEN) on Monday afternoon, beginning a 10-month journey to the Red Planet. Once there, assuming everything goes according to plan, the craft will remain in orbit around Mars in order to study its upper atmosphere. Why, you ask? Scientists believe that Mars's surface was once much more like Earth's — that is, with flowing water on its surface. MAVEN will examine the continuing loss of Mars's atmosphere, along with its current composition and the rate at which it's losing what it has left.
MAVEN launched at 1:28 p.m. Eastern, from Cape Canaveral in Florida. NASA is streaming continued coverage of MAVEN's initial journey, which you can watch below.
Just before the launch, the prospects of acceptable weather conditions for liftoff were rated at about 60 percent. NASA had to launch MAVEN by mid-December in order to stay in the ballpark of the project's $671 million budget. If it didn't happen by then, NASA will have to wait until 2016 for another launch opportunity.
But you do not want us to explain what MAVEN is all about. You want "Geordi La Forge" to explain. Thankfully, Star Trek's own LeVar Burton filmed a PSA on the mission for all the world to see:
Unlike the dramatic Curiosity rover landing, MAVEN will simply fall into orbit around the planet. So today's launch might be as dramatic as it gets until the data starts coming in.