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  • Mars Missions Moving Forward
    Posted by Heather Goss 9:31 PM on Jul 27, 2010

    Scientists and engineers who focus on the red planet have been enjoying some milestones this month. After saying goodbye to the Phoenix Mars Lander in late May, scientists are cheering the first "baby steps" taken by the Mars Science Laboratory last Friday. 

    The newest Mars rover, named Curiosity, successfully took a roll back and forth about one meter each way inside a clean room. In another welcome outreach to the public, the @MarsCuriosity Twitter feed gave followers a heads up just before the test run, so viewers (like yours truly) could tune into a webcam to watch it live.  You can watch the video again here. Curiosity is scheduled for launch in 2011, reaching the Mars surface in 2012. The giant rover will continue the search for evidence of life and among its ten instruments, will also carry a camera that will record its touchdown. 

    blog post photo
    Close view of Valles Marineris on Mars. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech Arizona State University

    Meanwhile, the comparatively ancient Mars Odyssey went into safe mode briefly last week.  Scientists at JPL quickly resolved the situation, discovering that an electronic encoder, which helps control the solar array, performed unexpectedly and caused the switch to safe mode.  The issue was easily corrected and Odyssey is back fully functioning as of Friday.

    And that's just a blip on the radar as far as Odyssey is concerned right now.  On Friday the team released what they're calling the "most accurate Mars map ever" from the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a multi-band infrared camera onboard Odyssey.  The map is eight years in the making and comprised of nearly 21,000 individual images.  Right now the images are blended together in a mosaic, but the researchers at Arizona State University's Mars Space Flight Facility and NASA's JPL are asking the public to help them with the detailed stitching; visit their Be the Martian site for more information. 

    The end use is, in fact, the public as well, as Philip Christensen, principal investigator for THEMIS and director of the Mars Space Flight Facility noted in their press release, "The broad purpose underlying all these sites is to make Mars exploration easy and engaging for everyone.  We are trying to create a user-friendly interface between the public and NASA's Planetary Data System, which does a terrific job of collecting, validated and archiving data." Just ask these seventh graders.

    Tags: os99, mars, odyssey, curiosity

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