NASA reported that its Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN) spacecraft, the “first spacecraft dedicated to exploring the tenuous upper atmosphere of Mars,” successfully rendezvoused with Mars and began orbiting the planet on September 21.

MAVEN’s successful rendezvous was the culmination of 11 years of work for the NASA team and about 10 months of travel for the spacecraft.

“It’s taken 11 years from the original concept for MAVEN to now having a spacecraft in orbit at Mars,” said Bruce Jakosky, MAVEN principal investigator with the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado, Boulder. “I’m delighted to be here safely and successfully, and looking forward to starting our science mission.”

When the NASA team got the news they had been waiting for—“Based on observed navigation data, congratulations, MAVEN is now in Mars orbit”—they “erupted with cheers of happiness and relief.” There was only one opportunity during the spacecraft’s projection to get it into orbit, and they had succeeded.

MAVEN is now in the data collection phase of its journey. Three of its eight scientific instruments were activated on September 22, and the rest will activate between now and early November.

“NASA has a long history of scientific discovery at Mars and the safe arrival of MAVEN opens another chapter,” said John Grunsfeld, astronaut and associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “Maven will complement NASA’s other Martian robotic explorers—and those of our partners around the globe—to answer some fundamental questions about Mars and life beyond Earth.”

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Besides writing, R. McKinley loves reading (especially historical fiction and science books), playing piano and flute, being involved in politics and community, working out, enjoying nature, and hanging out with four wonderful cats.