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The USA Returns to Mars

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The USA Returns to Mars

NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft reached Mars last night and was captured into orbit after a successful main engine burn.

NASA
Marshall Space Flight Center

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see captionOctober 24, 2001: The United States returned to Mars last night as NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey fired its main engine at 7:26 p.m. Pacific time on Oct. 23rd (0226 UT on Oct. 24th) and was captured into orbit around the red planet.

At 7:55 p.m. Pacific time, flight controllers at the Deep Space Network station in Goldstone, Calif., and Canberra, Australia, picked up the first radio signal from the spacecraft as it emerged from behind the planet Mars.

Right: An artist's rendition of 2001 Mars Odyssey as it enters orbit. Credit: JPL

"Early information indicates everything went great," said Matt Landano, the Odyssey project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena. "The orbit insertion burn went off just as we planned and we will now begin the three- month long aerobraking phase."

Members of the flight team are analyzing the information they are receiving from Odyssey to help them evaluate the health and status of the spacecraft and determine its precise orbit geometry.

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Last night's firing of the main engine reduced Odyssey's speed and allowed it to be captured by Martian gravity into an egg-shaped elliptical orbit around the planet. In the weeks and months ahead, the spacecraft will repeatedly brush against the top of the atmosphere in a process called aerobraking. By using atmospheric drag on the spacecraft, flight controllers will reduce the long, highly elliptical orbit into a shorter, 2-hour circular orbit of approximately 400 kilometers (about 250 miles) altitude for the mission's science data collection.

"Orbit insertion is our single most critical event during the mission, and we are glad it's behind us," said David A. Spencer, Odyssey's mission manager at JPL. "But we cannot rest on our laurels. The aerobraking phase will be a demanding, around-the-clock operation, and it requires the flight team to react as the atmosphere of Mars changes."

The aerobraking phase is scheduled to begin on Friday, October 26.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

Web Links

2001 Mars Odyssey -(JPL) mission home page

Mars Orbit Insertion:Trajectory Animations -- (JPL) This collection of animations are all computer simulations showing various viewing perspectives of Mars Odyssey as it enters into orbit around Mars.

More 2001 Mars Odyssey Video -- (JPL) These video clips illustrate Odyssey's journey to Mars. Topics include aerobraking, telecommunications, orbit insertion, and the interplanetary cruise.

The Challenge of getting to Mars: Orbit Insertion -- (JPL) Mission scientists and engineers describe what's tricky about traveling to the Red Planet.

More Science@NASA stories about Mars and 2001 Mars Odyssey:

Planet Gobbling Dust Storms -(Science@NASA) An enormous dust storm exploded on Mars earlier this year, shrouding the planet in haze and substantially raising the temperature of its atmosphere.

The Perfect Storm Strikes Mars -(Science@NASA) 2001 Mars Odyssey mission controllers will be keeping a close eye on a Martian dust storm as Odyssey enters the critical aerobraking phase of its mission.

2001 Mars Odyssey -(Science@NASA) Learn more about the science objectives of the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission.

Space Weather on Mars -(Science@NASA) Future human explorers of Mars can leave their umbrellas back on Earth, but perhaps they shouldn't forget their Geiger counters!

The Lure of Hematite -(Science@NASA) On rusty-red Mars, a curious deposit of gray-colored hematite (a mineral cousin of common household rust) could hold the key to the mystery of elusive Martian water.

Carbonated Mars -(Science@NASA) Here on Earth the only way to make carbonate rocks is with the aid of liquid water. Finding such rocks on Mars might prove, once and for all, that the barren Red Planet was once warm and wet.


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