Fri, Aug 27, 2004 - Page 7 News List

NASA's Mars orbiter Odyssey to extend its mission

EXPLORATION The US$35 million extension will go toward mapping the Red Planet and relaying data back from the agency's Spirit and Opportunity rovers

AP , Pasadena, California

NASA has extended the mission of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, which has been studying and mapping the Red Planet since early 2002 as well as serving as a relay for data from the surface rovers Spirit and Opportunity.

Odyssey's primary mission, which cost US$297 million, ended Tuesday. The US$35 million extension will fund operations through September 2006, and NASA noted that the spacecraft has enough fuel left to operate through this decade and the next one at its current rate of consumption.

"Odyssey has accomplished all of its mission-success criteria," said Philip Varghese, Odyssey project manager at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The spacecraft's findings include evidence of abundant frozen water under the surface of the south polar region, a widespread mineral indicating the Martian environment has been`quite dry, and suggestions that Mars is undergoing climate change. Its instruments have also made the most detailed maps of Mars.

Odyssey, which reached Mars in 2001, also carried the first experiment sent to Mars in preparation for manned missions. It found that radiation levels around the planet, from solar flares and cosmic rays, are two to three times higher than around Earth.

The orbiter also helped planners analyze landing sites for the twin rovers that set down on the planet in January and has relayed about 85 percent the data sent by the robot vehicles. Odyssey is being used to analyze sites for another mission scheduled to land on Mars in 2008 and is monitoring the planet's atmosphere to plan for the arrival of an orbiter in 2006.

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