Saturday, May 13, 2006

"MRO: Delicate Dips into the Martian Atmosphere"

It's amazing what humans can do. By remote control.

On another planet.

Now underway is the delicate art of “aerobraking”—using hundreds of cautiously calculated dips into the upper atmosphere of Mars. The process uses brief burns from MRO’s thrusters. Those dips have to be deep enough to slow the spacecraft by atmospheric drag … but not deep enough to overheat or damage the orbiter.

At aerobraking’s end, MRO’s orbit around Mars will be approximately two hours. At that point, from the spacecraft’s nearly circular orbit, the mission’s science observations are to begin in earnest.

But the coolest part is the start of the multi-World Wide Web.

The multi-tasking Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will study the history of water on the red planet. In addition, it will become the first link in a communications bridge back to Earth—an “interplanetary Internet” that can be used by spacecraft in coming years.

Furthermore, MRO’s ultra-powerful camera system can guide future spacecraft missions—such as NASA’s Phoenix lander and the Mars Science Laboratory—to precise and safe landings on that faraway world. Data gleaned by MRO can also help plot the touch down zones for human explorers too.

Careful with that aerobraking. Sounds like we really need MRO.

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