Originally Published: November 18, 2013 6:02 a.m.
Today's launch from Cape Canaveral won't match the excitement around the world in 1969 when American spaceship Apollo landed on the moon, but plenty of us around today remember that milestone and still enjoy our country's space explorations.
If all goes well, the Maven, NASA's newest Mars spacecraft, will blast off on a 10-month journey to the Red Planet, orbit it and study the atmosphere in hopes of understanding why the planet evolved from warm and wet to cold and dry.
Scientists want to build a profile of the Mars atmosphere, and the Maven will help them do that, NASA officials say, and further provide information to help human explorers who travel to the planet one day in the future. NASA is aiming for a manned mission to Mars in the 2030s.
Without doubt, Mars is the most fascinating planet in the universe, and of the other countries that have tried to hit this tricky target, NASA has made the most attempts - 20 launches so far - and has the best success rate, 70 percent. When Maven reaches its destination next September, it will join three functioning spacecraft, two U.S. and one European, and an Indian orbiter is expected to arrive about the same time. Currently, rovers Opportunity and Curiosity are beaming signals back to earth, providing information about the areas they roam.
The launching of Maven was considered so vital to the United States' exploration of space that preparations were allowed to resume almost immediately after the 16-day government shutdown started a few months ago. And, it's critical that Maven rockets into space in the next month when earth and Mars line up in the right configuration, which happens just every 26 months. If Maven doesn't make this launch date, then the spacecraft will have to wait until early 2016
While some might say that spending money on a space program is a waste, others would disagree on grounds that it is important for us to know as much as is practically possible about the cosmos.
By their very nature, Americans are explorers, always eager for discovery of the unknown.
It would be mighty hard to give up the curiosity that is innately us.