Tuesday, October 23, 2001


As I write this, I'm logged into SPACE.com, watching the mission control room of the Mars Odyssey space craft. The space craft is in the midst of a very tricky procedure: it's trying to become the first artificial satellite of Mars. I've been reading about this story in the newspapers for the past few days. As a college co-op, I worked at JPL (Pasadena, California), home of Odyssey mission control.

I'm now watching people on the screen hugging each other, as the space craft reacquired planet earth (acquisition of signal) after going 'behind the planet' for almost ten minutes. This is a big success, but still the first steps.

The verification of 'planetary orbit' won't take place for another three hours or so. I'll be asleep. But it's thrilling to report this news. The work of Mars Odyssey is testament to the collective will of mankind. Some facts:

  • Odyssey traveled 286 million miles over six months to get to Mars

  • Communication with Odyssey takes place over microwaves, taking nine minutes to reach Earth

  • The goal of Odyssey is to study the planet (i.e. find potential water)

    Past missions to Mars have usually met failure: 65% of the past 30 space craft sent to mars have failed, including two drastic failures in 1999. But the deputy project manager at JPL, Roger Gibbs, said these failures invigorated JPL to perform unprecented testing and fault analysis. And here we are.

    I read an editorial today about a Baltimore Oriole who was blown off its southern migration: it ended up in Ireland. Bird watchers there were amazed. Sometimes it takes pure chance to reach an incredible distance. And other times, it takes many years of testing and analysis.
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