NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has begun its science mapping mission. The spacecraft turned its science instruments toward Mars on Monday, February 18.
Flight controllers report that the thermal emission imaging system was turned on this morning. The camera system, which takes both visible and infrared images, will go through a period of calibration before the first science images are taken during the next few days. The first images will be released at a news conference on March 1.
"As with any new camera, it takes a while to get all the settings right to optimize the picture quality," said Dr. Philip Christensen, principal investigator for the thermal emission imaging system at Arizona State University, Tempe. "Once we get the system calibrated, there will be a tremendous flow of image data."
The gamma ray spectrometer instruments are collecting data on the composition of the martian surface. The door on the gamma ray sensor was opened yesterday, allowing the instrument to cool down to its operating temperature. The instrument will be fully operational later this week. The neutron spectrometer and high-energy neutron detector are collecting data that scientists expect will show the location of hydrogen on Mars, which may indicate deposits of water ice.
Having passed these milestones, engineers plan to begin troubleshooting the martian radiation environment experiment next week. The process of evaluating the status of the instrument could continue for several weeks. The radiation experiment stopped communicating and was turned off in August 2001.
JPL manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Principal investigators at Arizona State University in Tempe, the University of Arizona in Tucson, and NASA's Johnson Space Center, Houston, operate the science instruments. Additional science investigators are located at the Russian Space Research Institute and Los Alamos National Laboratories, New Mexico. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, is the prime contractor for the project, and developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations are conducted jointly from Lockheed Martin and from JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
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