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MAVEN launches successfully, set to unravel the mystery of Mars

[Updated, 10:41 a.m. Nov. 18: Success! The Atlas V rocket, carrying MAVEN on its mission to Mars, lifted off this morning just as the launch window opened. 

Social media lighted up as the robotic explorer left the launchpad at Cape Canaveral. This is just the first step in a 10-month journey.]

MAVEN is on schedule for its launch to Mars today. The NASA spacecraft will explore how the Red Planet went from wet and "friendly" to dry and dusty.

Teams prepping for liftoff had thumbs pointed up Monday as the countdown continued. The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution -- MAVEN -- will launch aboard an Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral, Fla. The window for launch is 10:28 a.m. to 12:28 p.m. PST.  You can watch it live in the stream below.

PHOTOS: MAVEN's road to Mars

As the Los Angeles Times' Amina Khan reported Friday, the purpose of MAVEN is to look at the upper atmosphere of Mars. Was it sapped due to a catastrophic impact? Did radiation from the sun chisel away over millennia, finally siphoning off all Mars' water vapor and gas?

Tens of millions of years ago, Mars could have been "a pretty friendly place with natural water, wind, waves and rain," Paul Mahaffy, an atmospheric scientist at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., told The Times. 

PHOTOS: Meet MAVEN and its instruments

MAVEN is the first spacecraft created for the purpose of deciphering the Red Planet's upper atmosphere, according to NASA. The trip will take 10 months, with expected arrival on Sept. 22, 2014. MAVEN will circle the planet, sampling "the entire upper atmosphere on every orbit."

Love Mars and MAVEN? Follow me @AmyTheHub

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
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