NASA says probes en route to Mars having quiet ride
WASHINGTON (AFP) Nov 21, 2003
Two probes launched toward Mars earlier this year are having a smooth journey to the Red Planet, despite recent solar storms, and are set to meet their scheduled arrival dates, NASA said Friday.

Spirit, the first of the probes launched, this week made its third flight path correction, in a maneuver that involved igniting its engines for just over two minutes, according to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.

Another three flight path corrections are necessary ahead oof Spirit's Mars landing, scheduled for January 4 at 0835 GMT, said Louis D'Amario, head of probe navigation at the JPL.

A Rover robot the size of a golf cart aboard Spirit will be sent out to explore the planet for a three-month period.

The second probe, Opportunity, is carrying an identical robot, and will touch down at the opposite side of Mars to Spirit on January 25 at 0505 GMT.

The two probes started up their onboard computer in the past two weeks, so as to prevent any corruption of the information files that might have been provoked by unusual levels of radiation during solar storms of late October and early November.

"We had no evidence of memory problems, but we considered it prudent to reboot both spacecraft to assure memory integrity, using the sleep-wake cycle that we plan to do each night after the rovers are on the surface of Mars," said Peter Theisinger, project manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project at the JPL.

Spirit's location two days ago was 91.5 million kilometers from Mars. The probe had traveled about 397 million kilometers (246 million miles) since its June 10 launch.

Opportunity, meanwhile, since it July 7 launch had traveled 326 million kilometers (202 million miles) and is now around 130 million kilometersmillion miles) from Mars.