Washington (AFP) Oct 23, 2001
The Mars Odyssey 2001 space probe succeeded late Tuesday in entering the orbit of Mars to study the geology and chemical composition of the Red Planet, US space officials announced.
The spacecraft reached the Red Planet's orbit after it fired its main engine to slow down and execute a delicate maneuver to achieve its goal, according to officials at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
"We are on orbit around Mars. We are pretty excited," said Scott Henderson, one of the laboratory's mission managers.
The good news was greeted by cheers and applause at the JPL's mission control room, according to images broadcast by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration.
The Mars Odyssey entered the orbit after a 200-day, 460 million-kilometer (286 million-mile) voyage in space.
It is the first time a probe has approached Mars since the failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander probes in 1999.
As the Mars Odyssey approached the Martian north pole at close to 21,000 kilometers (13,050 miles) per hour, its main engine fired at 10:26 pm Washington time (0226 GMT), JPL spokesman Mary Hardin told AFP by telephone.
The engine thrust slowed the spacecraft down for 20 minutes before it disappeared behind the Red Planet for half an hour.
Contact with the Mars Odyssey was re-established at 10:56 pm (0256 GMT) as it emerged from behind Mars, confirming that the maneuver was successful.
Before swinging into Martian orbit, the spacecraft's volleyball-size fuel tanks had to be pressurized and the hydraulic pipes heated up. In 20 minutes of ignition, they burned 262.9 kilograms (579.6 pounds) of fuel.
The Mars Odyssey's initial, elliptical orbit around the Red Planet will last 19 hours before it is adjusted by a series of delicate breaking maneuvers, called aerobreaking, until it skims over the planet's thin atmosphere.
In the end, the space probe will settle into a circular, two-hour orbit at an altitude of some 400 kilometers (250 miles) above the Martian surface.
The 725-kilogram (1,600-pound) probe, which was launched April 7 from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, will then be able to begin its mission.
The probe is carrying a gamma ray spectrometer, which includes a high-energy neutron detector, as well as a thermal-emission imaging system and a Martian radiation environment experiment.
These sophisticated instruments will enable scientists to gather data on the possible presence of water in the Martian crust, at up to one meter (yard) below the surface.
The mission should also enable scientists to better understand the geology of the Martian surface and the nature of radiation that strikes the planet and could be dangerous to humans.
The 300 million-dollar (337 million-euro) mission is considered a resumption of Mars exploration by NASA and is the first new program launched since the failure of the two 1999 probes, which crashed into the planet's surface due to human errors.
Odyssey 2001 Mission Home
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Mars Without Liquid Water
The main evidence for liquid water on Mars is the past development of giant flood channels that have been seen for the last 25 years as proof of the escape of water from the subsurface. All the models for modern and ancient Mars are based on the premise that there was once liquid water available, and perhaps even an ocean.
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