MAVEN hoisted atop Atlas 5 rocket

NASA's MAVEN spacecraft, the centerpiece of a $671 million mission to study the atmosphere of Mars, reached its penultimate stop before liftoff when technicians transported the delicate probe to the Atlas 5 rocket's seaside launch complex Friday, Nov. 8.

The milestone move marks one of the final visible steps ahead of the mission's launch, which is on schedule for Nov. 18 at 1:28 p.m. EST (1828 GMT).

Technicians began transferring the 2.8-ton spacecraft from its clean room at the Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility at 12:33 a.m. EST aboard a specialized transporter. The road trip across Kennedy Space Center took about two-and-a-half hours, and NASA says MAVEN arrived at the launch pad at 2:59 a.m. EST.

MAVEN was already enshrouded inside the nose cone of its Atlas 5 rocket. The cone-shaped fairing shields the payload from contaminants and airflow during ground preparations and the first phase of launch.

United Launch Alliance hooked up a crane to the top of MAVEN's payload fairing and hoisted the spacecraft inside the Atlas 5's Vertical Integration Facility, and technicians completed the initial attachment of MAVEN to its launch vehicle at 7:45 a.m. EST, according to NASA.

Mechanical and electrical connections were expected to be completed later Friday, followed by a spacecraft power-up Saturday to check MAVEN's health after the trip across Kennedy Space Center.

Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

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