Exploring Mars: Mars Mission Risks
Artist's rendering of the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft on its way to Mars
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As the Odyssey spacecraft makes it way toward Mars, mission engineers are working hard to prepare for arrival at Mars at 0230 Universal time Oct. 24 (7:30 p.m. Pacific time Oct. 23). Join Charles Whetsel, chief engineer of the Mars Exploration Program, and Matt Landano, 2001 Mars Odyssey project manager, as they describe the hard yet rewarding road to Mars.

Risky Business: A Mission to Mars

Imagine planning for a long sailing voyage. Your survival depends upon the sturdiness of your craft, planning and skill. Stowed onboard must be all the provisions, tools and hardware you'll need. Your knowledge and judgment about how to navigate through wind, weather and waves will be crucial to staying afloat.

You've learned from the successes and misfortunes of previous voyages. You won't make the same mistakes, but you know you may encounter some new challenges. When something breaks, you will need to be able to work around it. Beneath the surface may lurk something unexpected. Within the bowels of your sailing craft, there may be a weakness or a flaw that won't make itself known until later. And it may get you in the end. Vigilant, wary, you're ready for the best and prepared for the worst, for the things you don't know will happen.

In a way, space engineers say, that's a little of what it's like to work on a mission to Mars.