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NASA Launches Newest Robotic Explorer To Mars

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In this handout photo provided by NASA, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft as payload rolls out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad on Nov. 16, 2013 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

In this handout photo provided by NASA, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft as payload rolls out of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41 Vertical Integration Facility to the launch pad on Nov. 16, 2013 in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (credit: Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images)

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CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA’s newest robotic explorer, Maven, is on its way to Mars.

The Maven spacecraft blasted off aboard an unmanned rocket from Cape Canaveral on Monday. It will take Maven 10 months to reach Mars following a journey of more than 440 million miles.

This is NASA’s 21st mission to Mars since the 1960s. But it’s the first one devoted to studying the Martian upper atmosphere.

Scientists want to know why Mars went from being warm and wet during its first billion years, to the cold and dry place it is today. The early Martian atmosphere was thick enough to hold water and possibly support microbial life. But much of that atmosphere may have been lost to space, eroded by the sun. Maven may solve this case of mysterious climate change.

(© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

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