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Archive for Saturday, March 11, 2006

Spacecraft enters orbit around Mars

March 11, 2006

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— A NASA spacecraft successfully slipped into orbit around Mars on Friday, joining a trio of orbiters already circling the Red Planet.

Scientists cheered after the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter emerged from the planet's shadow and signaled to NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory that the maneuver was a success.

"Oh I am very relieved," project manager Jim Graf said minutes later. "It was picture perfect."

The 2-ton spacecraft is the most sophisticated ever to arrive at Mars and is expected to gather more data on the Red Planet than all previous Martian missions combined.

It will explore Mars in low orbit for four years and is expected to churn out the most detailed information ever about the planet and its climate and landscape.

James Graf, standing, project manager of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project, reacts after the spacecraft successfully entered Mars orbit, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Friday, March 10, 2006.

James Graf, standing, project manager of NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter project, reacts after the spacecraft successfully entered Mars orbit, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., Friday, March 10, 2006.

In the fall, the orbiter will begin exploring the Martian atmosphere, scan the surface for evidence of ancient water and scout for future landing sites to send robotic and possibly human explorers.

The $720 million mission is managed by JPL in Pasadena.

After a seven-month, 310 million-mile journey, the orbiter arrived Friday at Mars for the risky orbit insertion phase. Project managers had been nervous because of Mars' reputation of swallowing scientific probes.

But the Reconnaissance Orbiter performed the move without problem.

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