MAVEN mission to Mars set for Monday launch

Updated:

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. - NASA is hoping the weather will hold for its next big mission to Mars.

An Atlas V rocket carrying the MAVEN spacecraft is set to lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday for a 10-month trip to the red planet.

The project has been in the works for five years.

It's a launch that officials at NASA said is one of the more significant rocket launches in recent years.

"It's not a traditional communications satellite or launch into the Earth's orbit," said NASA spokesman George Diller.

MAVEN stands for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution. Its mission is to orbit Mars and study the upper Martian atmosphere.

"We can see if that was conducive to life or water on the surface of Mars," said MAVEN deputy project manager Sandra Cauffman.

Cauffman said Mars' atmosphere has been escaping into space.

Scientists want to learn if Earth is in danger of losing its atmosphere in the same way.

The launch date was picked specifically at a time the Earth lines up perfectly with Mars.

If the MAVEN spacecraft can't get off the ground in the 20-day launch period, it could mean a two-year wait to try again.

Launch managers said the project is on schedule and they don't anticipate any problems.

The only concern for Monday would be the weather. On Friday, weather forecasters said there is a 40 percent chance the weather will be outside launch tolerances.

"So, that means we're 60 percent go. We'll take those odds. We've launched with lower odds than that before," said Diller.

Monday's launch window is set to open just before 1:30 p.m.

We will have the launch live on WFTV Channel 9 and on WFTV.com.