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Odyssey successfully positioned for new Mars Rover's landing, NASA says

NASA announced the 11-year-old Mars Odyssey, which recently suffered a malfunction, has been successfully positioned to provide confirmation of Curiosity's August 5 landing.

By Space.com Staff / July 25, 2012

NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft passes above Mars' south pole in this artist's concept illustration. The spacecraft has been orbiting Mars since October 24, 2001. Image released October 28, 2003.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

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NASA has successfully moved one of its Mars-orbiting spacecraft into a new position to provide prompt confirmation of the upcoming Aug. 5 landing of the new Curiosity rover on the Red Planet.

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The 11-year-old Mars Odyssey probe performed a six-second thruster burn Tuesday (July 24) that nudged it six minutes ahead in its orbit, NASA officials said. The manuever placed Odyssey in a prime spot to receive signals from the Curiosity rover when it streaks toward the Martian surface, and to relay news of the rover's landing back to Earth.

"Information we are receiving indicates the maneuver has completed as planned," Mars Odyssey project manager Gaylon McSmith, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "Odyssey has been working at Mars longer than any other spacecraft, so it is appropriate that it has a special role in supporting the newest arrival."

Odyssey's comeback

The move marks something of a comeback for Odyssey, which in early June suffered a malfunction on one of its reaction wheels, instruments that help control the probe's orientation in space. The glitch caused Odyssey to go into a precautionary safe mode on July 11, which in turn affected its orbit.

As a result, officials weren't sure whether Odyssey would be in the right spot during the 1-ton Curiosity rover's touchdown. Without the corrective engine burn, Odyssey would have arrived over Curiosity's landing site — the enormous Gale Crater — about two minutes after the rover touched down, officials said.

Curiosity, the centerpiece of NASA's $2.5 billion Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) mission, will investigate whether the Gale area is, or ever was, capable of supporting microbial life.

Its landing is inspiring perhaps more nervousness than most other planetary touchdowns. Because Curiosity is so big, MSL engineers had to devise a new landing method for the rover. They settled on a rocket-powered sky crane, which will lower Curiosity to the Martian surface on cables before flying off and intentionally crash-landing a short distance away. [How Curiosity's Nail-Biting Landing Works (Pictures)]

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