This artist's concept depicts NASA's Mars Atmosphere and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN) spacecraft near Mars. MAVEN is in development for launch in 2013 and will be the first mission devoted to understanding the Martian upper atmosphere. The mission's principal investigator is Bruce Jakosky from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics at the University of Colorado.
The goal of MAVEN is to determine the role that loss of atmospheric gas to space played in changing the Martian climate through time. MAVEN will determine how much of the Martian atmosphere has been lost over time by measuring the current rate of escape to space and gathering enough information about the relevant processes to allow extrapolation backward in time.
Illustration credit: NASA