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NASA's Maven Explorer Now Orbiting Mars After 442 Million-Mile Journey

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The spacecraft will conduct its observations from orbit; it's not meant to land.

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (TheBlaze/AP) — NASA is back at Mars.

The Maven spacecraft arrived at the red planet late Sunday night after a 442 million-mile journey that began nearly a year ago.

In this photo provided by NASA, the United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Maven spacecraft launches from the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Space Launch Complex 41, Monday, Nov. 18, 2013, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. NASA’s Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN, is the first spacecraft devoted to exploring and understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. (Image source: AP/NASA, Bill Ingalls)

NASA confirmed that the robotic explorer slipped into Martian orbit as planned.

Now the real work begins for the $671 million mission.

Flight controllers will spend the next six weeks adjusting Maven's altitude and checking its science instruments. Then Maven will start probing the Martian upper atmosphere. The spacecraft will conduct its observations from orbit; it's not meant to land.

Technicians work on NASA’s next Mars-bound spacecraft, the Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution (MAVEN), at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (Image source: AP/John Raoux, File)

Scientists believe the Martian atmosphere holds clues as to how Earth's neighbor went from being warm and wet billions of years ago to cold and dry. That early moist world may have harbored microbial life, a tantalizing question yet to be answered.

The following news report aired a few days before Maven's arrival into Martian orbit:

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