NASA Revives Sick Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter passes over the planet's south polar region in this artist's concept illustration. The orbiter's shallow radar experiment, one of six science instruments on board, is designed to probe the internal structure of Mars' polar ice caps, as well as to gather information planet-wide about underground layers of ice, rock and, perhaps, liquid water that might be accessible from the surface. Phobos, one of Mars' two moons, appears in the upper left corner of the illustration. Image
Credit: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste

NASA?s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has bounced back from a phantom power surge that stalled its science operations at the red planet last week.

The spacecraft, NASA?s youngest orbiter at Mars, resumed its red planet reconnaissance duties on Tuesday after engineers sent commands to power up its eight science instruments.

"We have proceeded cautiously, checking the health and performance of the spacecraft at each step as we brought it back to full, normal operations," said Dan Johnston, mission manager for the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA?s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif.

The Mars probe?s maladies began on Feb. 23, when the spacecraft reported a voltage spike that triggered a computer reboot and forced the orbiter to enter a protective ?safe mode? to avoid further damage. But the voltage reading was apparently false, and may have been sparked by high-energy cosmic ray striking the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

After a series of ground-based tests and simulations, NASA engineers ordered the orbiter to shift out of its ?safe mode? on Saturday, then sent commands on Monday to restore science operations. The spacecraft resumed scanning Mars with its camera eyes and other instruments.

Launched in August 2005, the $720 million Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has been circling the red planet since 2006 and successfully completed its initial two-year mission last December. The spacecraft is now in the midst of a two-year extension to continue mapping the Martian surface through 2010.

With the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter problem solved, JPL engineers are preparing to tackle a long-standing vulnerability with another red planet probe - the Mars Odyssey orbiter. Engineers are planning a risky computer reboot for the aging Mars Odyssey next week to eliminate a known vulnerability memory in the spacecraft?s memory system. Odyssey?s mission began in April 2001, with the spacecraft currently in its third two-year extension.

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