The University of Colorado at Boulder has received its largest contract ever: a $438 million mission to Mars (via CW2). The Mars Atmosphere and Volatile Evolution, or MAVEN, spacecraft will be built in Colorado and then fired into space by a rocket also built in the state. Plans for the mission, which will look for signs that water—and possibly life—once existed on Mars, underwent dozens of reviews before being approved, notes the Daily Camera. Now, the scramble begins to make the craft ready for its voyage, which is set for November 2013, when Earth and Mars are aligned for the shortest possible trip between the two planets.

“The planets line up every two years, and this is the only time you can launch,” explains Bill Possell, director of mission operations. “If you miss it, it’s better to wait another two years.”

NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland is managing the CU project, and Lockheed Martin is slated to build the spacecraft, writes MSNBC.