NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft entered normal operating mode on 9 April in readiness for its four-year mission to the planet. The successful launch on a Boeing Delta II from Cape Canaveral, Florida, two days earlier, marks what NASA hopes will be a fresh start in Mars exploration following its failed Mars Climate Orbiter (MCO) and Mars Polar Lander (MPL) missions.

Odyssey is due to reach Mars on 24 October and will spend about two months adjusting its orbit before it begins to study the planet. The spacecraft carries three primary instruments to gather data about the make-up of the Martian surface and provide information on potential radiation hazards for future exploration.

A thermal-emission imaging system will determine the distribution of minerals and a gamma ray spectrometer will monitor the presence of 20 chemical elements on the surface, including hydrogen, which could show the amount and distribution of any water ice.

The Mars radiation environment experiment will study radiation.

The craft's primary science mission, due for January 2002 to July 2004, will map the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals on the Martian surface.

The Odyssey orbiter is the first in NASA's Mars exploration programme, which was revamped last year following the earlier Mars mission failures.

The Mars Odyssey mission has learned lessons from the MCO and MPL failures (Flight International, 27 March-2 April). Fewer than a third of 30 Mars missions (conducted by three countries) over the last 40 years, have succeeded, according to NASA.

The Lockheed Martin-built Odyssey will also support other Mars Exploration missions, providing the communications relay for future landers, including the Mars Exploration Rovers, which will be launched in 2003, and provide data to identify potential landing sites for future missions.

Source: Flight International