Sun, Mar 12, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Revolutionary NASA Mars orbiter reaches Red Planet

AFP , PASADENA, CALIFORNIA

A US spacecraft that scientists say could revolutionize the understanding of Mars moved into a "perfect" orbit around the Red Planet on Friday, NASA said.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), the most advanced mission ever sent to another planet, will circle the Red Planet for five years in search of water and life, sending back path-breaking data to Earth.

"This will rewrite the textbooks on Mars," said Jim Graf, project manager for NASA.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, cheered and applauded as the MRO, packed with an unprecedented high-tech array of instrumentation, completed its delicate deceleration into orbit on Friday.

After a seven-month voyage, the MRO fired its rockets to brake the 2.2-tonne vehicle, allowing it to be grabbed by Mars's gravitational pull.

The MRO mission to study the Mars surface is "the most technologically advanced payload NASA has ever sent to another planet," according to Graf.

It carries six observation and analysis instruments to search for signs of water and ice from the planet's outer atmosphere to below the Martian surface.

The entry maneuver placed the MRO in an elliptical revolution around Mars in which it will trace an orbit varying in altitude from 400km to 44,000km.

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