NASA’s been keen on exploring Mars to see if live could’ve thrived on the red planet, and the new Maven spacecraft (a solar-powered, box aircraft that weighs the same as a 5,400-pound sports utility vehicle) will fulfill the same goal a little differently, however – it’ll view Mars from above rather than on the red planet. Maven’s been traveling for 10 months and has crossed 442 million miles to arrive at Mars this weekend.

Maven is short for “Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution” and is the first mission NASA’s conducted to examine Mars from above. Recent findings from the red planet such as traces of water suggest that life could’ve thrived on the planet – seeing that water, or H2O, is necessary for the creation and maintenance of life.

With traces of water and oxygen, scientists now want to know why Mars has become such a cold planet where nothing currently thrives. In other words, if there’s any indication that life thrived on Mars, why is it the case that there’s no life thriving on the planet now? What happened in the planet’s history that has made Mars more of a “once-was” than a “now-is”?

Evolutionary thought says that life evolved from a few atoms and molecules into the current world humans inhabit, with some such as Dr. Michael Ruse to argue that life evolved “on the backs of crystals.”

The current Law of Thermodynamics says that energy never dissolves, but is recycled. A planet can become cold, however, but it can’t go from cold to hot. Either a planet such as Mars has been hot, maintained water, and preserved life at one point in time, or it never preserved life forms at all. With this in mind, it may be the case that Mars has traces of life like the planet Earth but exists in different conditions that’ve allowed Earth to thrive while Mars hasn’t.

Must Read: NASA Maven spacecraft to reach Mars after 10-month space journey

“Where did the water go? Where did the CO2 go from that early environment?” asked University of Colorado Laboratory for the Atmospheric and Space Physics chief investigator Bruce Jarosky. To ask these questions, of course, Jarosky has relied on current findings from Mars that suggests both water and CO2 existed prior to now on the red planet.

Must Read: NASA Maven spacecraft to reach Mars after 10-month space journey

Maven will close in on Mars to the tune of 52 feet, so this opportunity is a rare one for NASA and scientists. “I’m told the odds of having an approach that close to Mars are about 1 in 1 million years, so it’s really lucky that we get the opportunity here,” Jarosky said.

Maven will mark NASA’s twenty-first mission to Mars since the 1960s.