[meteorite-list] Mars Odyssey Mission Extended to September 2006

From: Ron Baalke <baalke_at_meteoritecentral.com>
Date: Mon Aug 23 13:01:53 2004
Message-ID: <200408231701.KAA12075_at_zagami.jpl.nasa.gov>


Mars Odyssey to voyage into future
Maggie McKee
New Scientist
August 23, 2004

NASA's Mars Odyssey mission, originally scheduled to end on Tuesday, has
been granted a stay of execution until at least September 2006, reveal
NASA scientists.

The spacecraft has returned a string of important discoveries about the
Red Planet since its launch in 2001, and has been pivotal in the success
of the recent Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity.

"We have a very healthy spacecraft and a lot more science to do," says
project scientist Jeffrey Plaut at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in
Pasadena, California, US.

NASA has agreed to fund the mission at $15 million a year for a further
two years - the equivalent of three-quarters of Odyssey's original budget.

Scientists hope this extension will be the first of many, as engineers
predict the spacecraft will survive at least another 10 years. It runs
on solar power and has suffered only one failure, when its
radiation-monitoring device called MARIE was fried by violent solar
storms in 2003.

But the craft's other two suites of instruments are still going strong.
Its cameras (visible and infrared) and soil composition analysers (made
up of gamma-ray and neutron detectors) continue to reveal surprises.

Infrared cameras have mapped the entire planet - on both the sunlight
and shaded sides of the planet - at a resolution of 100 metres,
providing the sharpest-ever global picture of Mars.

Melting snow

In July 2004, French scientists used the infrared images to create
detailed maps of "valley networks" - dense, dry, tributary-like
formations a few kilometres long that were thought to have been created
by past eruptions of groundwater.

"But there were so many sources, you can't explain them by water coming
in from the ground - no terrain has that many springs," Plaut told New
Scientist. "The team's conclusion is they had to be caused by the runoff
of rain or melting snow."

Water is central to another of Odyssey's major scientific
accomplishments, says Plaut. In 2002, the craft spotted hydrogen atoms
in the top metre of soil over much of the planet. High concentrations of
hydrogen from the poles to latitudes of 60 degrees suggest those regions
are ice-rich soils.

But lower hydrogen concentrations in swathes around the planet's
equatorial regions suggest the signal comes from minerals that had been
exposed to water in the past. These types of hydrates are exactly what
NASA's Opportunity rover has seen in surface rocks in 2004.

"It's neat because we're starting to connect the dots between what we
observe from these orbiters and what we then observe with rovers on the
ground," Plaut says.

Lost probes

Odyssey has been crucial to the success of Opportunity and its twin,
Spirit. It has transmitted 85 per cent of the data the rovers have
beamed up from the Martian surface to Earth.

If Odyssey gets more life extensions, it may play a similar role with a
future NASA rover called Phoenix. That rover is due to land on Mars in
2008 to drill into some of the ice-rich soil Odyssey discovered.

Odyssey was originally planned to ferry Phoenix to Mars. But NASA
planners scrapped Odyssey's lander after the agency lost two Mars probes
in a row in the late 1990s.

"Ours was the next mission to Mars on the heels of the twin failures,"
recalls Plaut. "Basically we were told: 'You cannot fail.' That's a lot
of pressure to put on a team."

"But when we did succeed, it made a lot of people proud of the space
program," he told New Scientist.
Received on Mon 23 Aug 2004 01:01:50 PM PDT

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