Berkeley space scientists ready for Nov. 18 Mars mission launch

ATTENTION: Reporters & editors covering science

MAVEN orbiting Mars

NASA’s conception of the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars to study its atmosphere and discover why most of it disappeared billions of years ago. NASA image.

WHAT: During Monday morning’s launch countdown for NASA’s newest mission to Mars, called Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), many of the spacecraft’s builders will be anxiously watching live video of the launch from the Space Sciences Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley. Reporters are invited to attend and interview those behind the mission.

WHEN: Monday, Nov. 18, beginning at 10 a.m. PST. The MAVEN launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida will take place within a two-hour window: 10:28 a.m.-12:28 p.m. PST.

WHERE: Main conference room, Space Sciences Laboratory, 7 Gauss Way, located in the hills above the UC Berkeley campus. (see map)

WHO: While many members of UC Berkeley’s MAVEN team will be watching the launch in Florida, Peter Harvey, MAVEN flight software lead; Bryan Mendez, a member of SSL’s educational outreach team; and some of the engineers and scientists who built instruments for the spacecraft will be following the launch at the Space Sciences Laboratory and will be available for comment on the mission.

DETAILS: Mars may once have had an atmosphere, oceans and rivers similar to Earth. Today it is a red and dusty sphere drier than any desert on Earth. (see NASA video)

MAVEN was designed to find out why Mars lost its atmosphere. From its Martian orbit, the spacecraft will collect evidence to support or refute the reigning theory that the main cause was loss of its magnetic field billions of years ago, which allowed the solar wind and solar storms to scour the atmosphere away. The answer will give planetary scientists a hint of what the future may bring for other planets, including Earth.

More than half of the instruments aboard the MAVEN spacecraft were built at UC Berkeley’s Space Sciences Laboratory (SSL) under the leadership of deputy principle investigator Janet Luhmann, late physicist Robert Lin, who was the UC Berkeley principle investigator, and David Mitchell, who replaced Lin. Those four instruments are part of the six-instrument Particles and Fields Package, which will characterize the solar wind and the ionosphere of the planet. The spacecraft will carry two other instrument suites: a remote sensing package focused on the upper atmosphere and ionosphere, and a package to measure the composition and isotopes of neutral ions. The university also provides education and public outreach for the mission.

MAVEN’s other instruments were built by teams at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center and the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado Boulder, where MAVEN’s principal investigator, Bruce Jakosky, is based.

For more information about MAVEN’s mission, link to

Launch commentary coverage and prelaunch media briefings will be carried live on NASA Television and the agency’s website. For information on NASA’s coverage of the launch, link to