- The Washington Times - Monday, November 18, 2013

The Maven spacecraft on Monday was atop its Florida launch pad, ready to take off on a Mars mission to answer a couple of key questions: Why did the planet go from warm to cold, and is there other human life in the universe?

This is NASA’s 21st mission to Mars. Fourteen of the past 20 U.S. launches have reached their marks, a 70 percent success rate that puts America at the top in the world for space mission successes, The Associated Press reported.

The Maven will blast off Monday afternoon aboard an Atlas V unmanned rocket, AP said.

Mars once had an atmosphere that could support water and possibly some life but is now dry and cold, unable to support life — and scientists want to know what happened.

“Something clearly happened,” said Bruce Jakosky, the leading scientist for Maven project, AP reported. “What we want to do is to understand what are the reasons for that change in the climate.”

Maven is expected to take 10 months to reach Mars. It will begin its orbit around the planet in September, AP reported.

And the total cost of the mission? About $671 million, AP reported.

Also of interest to scientists: to answer the question “Are we alone in the universe?” NASA Science Mission Director John Grunsfeld said in the AP report.

Maven is an acronym for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, only NASA puts a capital “N” in EvolutioN, AP reported.