NASA’s latest mission to the red planet, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) lifted off from launch complex 41 at the Cape Canaveral air force station on top of an United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket November 18.

This Mars mission will not land on the surface like the Rover Curiosity did last year, but will orbit the planet in an effort to figure out why Mars lost most of its atmosphere over the last several billion years.  MAVEN will work in conjunction with Curiosity by taking readings form the upper edge of the atmosphere and compare them to similar readings taken by the rover on the ground. Mars was once much warmer and wetter, and lessons learned from what happened there might scientists understand our own planet’s atmosphere better. 

“After 10 years of developing the mission concept and then the hardware, it’s incredibly exciting to see MAVEN on its way,” said Bruce Jakosky, principal investigator at the University of Colorado Boulder’s Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics (CU/LASP) in a press release, “But the real excitement will come in 10 months, when we go into orbit around Mars and can start getting the science results we planned.”

MAVEN was built in Colorado by the Lockheed Martin corporation and contains science experiments provided by the University of Colorado Boulder, University of California, Berkley and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.

More information on the mission can be found on NASA’s MAVEN website.