After Delay, Orbiter Lifts Off to Scout Mars

A Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket launches off pad 41 with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

A Lockheed Martin Atlas V rocket launches off pad 41 with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Cape Canaveral, Fla., Aug. 12. hide caption

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an artist's concept of SHARAD at work i i

An instrument on the orbiter called a SHARAD radar will seek liquid or frozen water within the first few hundred feet under the Martian surface. Above, an artist's concept of SHARAD at work. NASA/JPL hide caption

itoggle caption NASA/JPL
an artist's concept of SHARAD at work

An instrument on the orbiter called a SHARAD radar will seek liquid or frozen water within the first few hundred feet under the Martian surface. Above, an artist's concept of SHARAD at work.

NASA/JPL

NASA's latest voyage to the planet Mars is underway. An Atlas V rocket carrying the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter blasted off on time, following two days of scrubs due to technical glitches. The orbiter will take about seven months to get to Mars, and will circle the planet for four years.

After settling into orbit, it will collect more data than all the previous Mars missions combined. NASA hopes the information will speed human exploration of the planet in the future.

On Thursday, NASA scrubbed the planned launch due to a problem with a fuel sensor.

The orbiter will look for new evidence that Mars once had liquid water — a prerequisite for life. A rover on the planet's surface already has found what may be a former lake bed. Scans by another orbiter have revealed ice near the planet's surface.

The new orbiter will try to determine whether that ice extends hundreds or even thousands of feet down. It will also look for mineral deposits that could reveal whether the water on Mars was ever liquid.

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