By Irene Klotz
A NASA spacecraft designed to investigate how Mars lost its water is expected to put itself into orbit around the Red Planet on Sunday after a 10-month journey.
After traveling 442 million miles (711 million km) from Earth, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, probe faces a do-or-die burn of its six braking rockets beginning at 9:37 p.m. EDT.
If successful, the thruster burns will trim enough speed for MAVEN to be captured by Mars’ gravity and fall into a looping orbit.
Over the next six weeks, as engineers check MAVEN’s nine science instruments, the spacecraft will maneuver itself into an operational orbit that comes as close as 93 miles (150 km) and as far away as 3,853 miles (6,200 km) from Mars’ surface.