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  1. The USA Returns to Mars

    Based on a NASA press release

    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.

    “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.

    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.