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Maven to Mars

NASA launches unmanned "Maven" spacecraft to Mars.
(NBC News) NASA launched its Maven orbiter on Monday to begin a journey that could unravel the mysteries surrounding Mars' past and current atmosphere -- and perhaps reveal how the planet lost its life-friendly environment.

A United Launch Alliance Atlas 5 rocket rose from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station's Launch Complex 41 in Florida at 1:28 p.m. ET, carrying the probe into space to kick off its $671 million mission.

If all goes according to schedule, the bus-sized, 2.7-ton spacecraft will enter Martian orbit next September to study the Red Planet's upper atmosphere over the course of at least one Earth year.

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