Illustration of of Mars Odyssey

One day after launch from Cape Canaveral, Fla., the Mars Odyssey mission continues to go exceedingly well.

Following acquisition of the spacecraft's signal by a Deep Space Network ground station at Canberra, Australia, shortly before 9 a.m. Pacific time Saturday, the mission team has continued to monitor the status of spacecraft subsystems, all of which are performing normally. Ground controllers established a two-way communication link between Mars Odyssey and Earth, enabling the navigation team to start collecting data to assess the spacecraft's flight path.

Among various housekeeping events Saturday, the team commanded the spacecraft to transmit to Earth at a high rate for playback of data recorded during launch. They also commanded a desaturation of the spacecraft's reaction wheels, a procedure in which the gyro-like devices are spun down in order to remove excess momentum. Ground controllers concluded that an alarm triggered shortly after launch by a temperature sensor on Odyssey's solar panel is not a concern. Saturday afternoon they switched to a ground station at Santiago, Chile, to communicate with the spacecraft. The project is using Santiago to fill gaps in its Deep Space Network tracking coverage during early cruise.

This morning the team commanded the spacecraft to transition out of a "safe mode" it was in during launch to a normal operating mode. They also turned the spacecraft so that the medium-gain antenna that Odyssey is transmitting over is pointed toward Earth. As of late morning, the team was assessing the state of spacecraft subsystems, and if all is well a command will be sent this afternoon to make the transition complete.

Early navigation calculations show that the magnitude of the first trajectory correction maneuver fine-tuning the spacecraft's flight path April 16 will be only 6 meters per second. Because that maneuver will be so small, propellant will be saved for use during Mars orbit insertion, aerobraking and the orbital mission.

Odyssey will reach Mars on October 24, after which it will spend about two months adjusting its orbit before beginning a four-year mission studying the red planet.