CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — NASA's Maven spacecraft entered orbit around Mars for an unprecedented study of the red planet's atmosphere following a 442 million-mile journey that began nearly a year ago.
The robotic explorer successfully slipped into orbit around the red planet late Sunday night.
"I think my heart's about ready to start again," Maven's chief investigator, Bruce Jakosky of the University of Colorado, said early Monday. "All I can say at this point is, 'We're in orbit at Mars, guys!'"
Now the real work begins for the $671 million mission, the first dedicated to studying the Martian upper atmosphere and the latest step in NASA's bid to send astronauts to Mars in the 2030s.
Flight controllers in Colorado will spend the next six weeks adjusting Maven's altitude and checking its science instruments, and observing a comet streaking by at relatively close range. Then in early November, Maven will start probing the upper atmosphere of Mars. The spacecraft will conduct its observations from orbit; it's not meant to land.
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 wet world may have harbored microbial life, a tantalizing question yet to be answered.
NASA launched Maven last November from Cape Canaveral, the 10th U.S. mission sent to orbit the red planet. Three earlier ones failed, and until the official word came of success late Sunday night, the entire team was on edge.
"I don't have any fingernails any more, but we've made it," said Colleen Hartman, deputy director for science at Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. "It's incredible."
The spacecraft was clocking more than 10,000 mph when it hit the brakes for the so-called orbital insertion, a half-hour process. The world had to wait 12 minutes to learn the outcome, once it occurred, because of the lag in spacecraft signals given the 138 million miles between the two planets Sunday.
"Wow, what a night. You get one shot with Mars orbit insertion, and Maven nailed it tonight," said NASA project manager David Mitchell.
Maven joins three spacecraft already circling Mars, two American and one European. And the traffic jam isn't over: India's first interplanetary probe, Mangalyaan, will reach Mars in two days and also aim for orbit. Jakosky wished the team well.
Jakosky, who's with the University of Colorado's Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics in Boulder, hopes to learn where all the water on Mars went, along with the carbon dioxide that once comprised an atmosphere thick enough to hold moist clouds.
The gases may have been stripped away by the sun early in Mars' existence, escaping into the upper atmosphere and out into space. Maven's observations should be able to extrapolate back in time, Jakosky said.
Maven — short for Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution Mission — will spend at least a year collecting data. That's a full Earth year, half a Martian one. Its orbit will dip as low as 78 miles above the Martian surface as its eight instruments make measurements. The craft is as long as a school bus, from solar wingtip to tip, and as hefty as an SUV.
Maven will have a rare brush with a comet next month.
The nucleus of newly discovered Comet Siding Spring will pass 82,000 miles from Mars on Oct. 19. The risk of comet dust damaging Maven is low, officials said, and the spacecraft should be able to observe Siding Spring as a science bonus.
Lockheed Martin Corp., Maven's maker, is operating the mission from its control center at Littleton, Colorado.
This is NASA's 21st shot at Mars and the first since the Curiosity rover landed on the red planet in 2012. Just this month, Curiosity arrived at its prime science target, a mountain named Sharp, ripe for drilling. The Opportunity rover is also still active a decade after landing.
More landers will be on the way in 2016 and 2018 from NASA and the European and Russian space agencies. The next U.S. rover is scheduled for launch in 2020; more capable than Curiosity, it will collect samples for possible return to Earth, and attempt to produce oxygen from atmospheric carbon dioxide. That latter experiment, if successful, would allow future human explorers to live off the land, according to NASA's John Grunsfeld, head of science missions and a former astronaut.
WOODBINE, Ga. (AP) — Reacting to funding cuts, the Camden County sheriff's office will use commissary sales to fund inmate education efforts.
Three months ago, state funding that pays for an instructor's salary was cut in half.
Jail Administrator Rob Mastroianni said the facility is now making up the funding gaps using revenue from its commissary, where prisoners can buy snacks and personal items. State law requires that commissary proceeds can only be spent on programs that improve the quality of life for inmates.
The Florida Times-Union reports there are typically 10 to 15 students enrolled in the jail program.
ATLANTA (AP) — Authorities are continuing a search for the body of a 28-year-old man, who apparently drowned after falling from a dock into Lake Lanier.
The Times reports that crews plan to resume their search Monday morning.
Hall County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman Nicole Bailes said the man struck his head in a fall Sunday and never resurfaced from the lake. The accident happened at Sunset Cove.
Bailes tells The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that alcohol may have contributed to the accident.
Authorities were sending sonar equipment from south Georgia to assist in the search. Divers from the sheriff's office and the Department of Natural Resources plan to use the sonar equipment to help locate the victim.
SURUC, Turkey (AP) — Some 130,000 Syrian refugees have reached Turkey in the past four days after fleeing the advance of Islamic State militants, Turkey's deputy prime minister said Monday, warning that the number could rise further as the militants press ahead with an onslaught.
Numan Kurtulmus said however, that Turkey was ready to react to "the worst case scenario."
"I hope that we are not faced with a more populous refugee wave, but if we are, we have taken our precautions," Kurtulmus said. "A refugee wave that can be expressed by hundreds of thousands is a possibility."
The refugees have been flooding into Turkey since Thursday, escaping an Islamic State offensive that has pushed the conflict nearly within sight of the Turkish border. The conflict in Syria had already pushed more than a million people over the border in the past 3½ years.
The al-Qaida breakaway group — which says it wants to establish an Islamic state, or caliphate, ruled by a harsh version of Islamic law in territory it captured straddling the Syria-Iraq border — has in recent days advanced into Kurdish regions of Syria that border Turkey, where fleeing refugees on Sunday reported atrocities that included stonings, beheadings and the torching of homes.
On Monday, fighting between Kurdish fighters and the Islamic State militants raged on near the northern city of Kobani, which is also known as Ayn Arab, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
The Observatory said the militants lost at least 21 fighters since Sunday night, most of them on the southern outskirts of Kobani.
Nawaf Khalil, a spokesman for Syria's Kurdish Democratic Union Party, or PYD, told The Associated Press that the situation on the ground "is better than before."
He added that the main Kurdish force in Syria, known as the People's Protection Units, had pushed Islamic State fighters about 10 kilometers (6 miles) away from their previous positions east of Kobani.
"We will fight until the last gunman in Kobani," Khalil said.
The situation at the Turkish side of the border was tense, with more clashes breaking out between Kurds wanting to cross to take aid to the Kobani region and police preventing them from reaching the area.
The nearby town of Suruc was flooded with refugees and armored military vehicles were moving.
"This is not a natural disaster... What we are faced with is a man-made disaster," said Kurtulmus, the Turkish deputy prime minister.
"We don't know how many more villages may be raided, how many more people may be forced to seek refuge. We don't know," he said. "An uncontrollable force at the other side of the border is attacking civilians. The extent of the disaster is worse than a natural disaster."
Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed.
PARIS (AP) — France's top security official says militants from the Islamic State group have threatened to kill civilians in the coalition of countries arrayed against the extremists.
Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve says he is confident in the country's security.
Cazeneuve said Monday "this threat to kill civilians, added to the execution of hostages and to the massacres, is yet another demonstration of the barbarism of these terrorists, justifying our fight without truce or pause."
He added that "France is not afraid because it is prepared to respond to their threats."
The al-Qaida breakaway group, which wants to establish an Islamic state, or caliphate, rules by its harsh version of Islamic law in territory it captured straddling the Syria-Iraq border. France and the U.S. have conducted airstrikes in Iraq against the militants.