Spacecraft Orbiting Mars Suffers Malfunction
An artist's rendition of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft in orbit above Mars.
Credit: NASA

NASA engineers are working to revive the space agency's oldest spacecraft in orbit around Mars from an unexpected malfunction that stalled its observations of the red planet.

The Mars Odyssey spacecraft entered a hibernation-like "safe mode" on July 14 due to a glitch with the 9-year-old probe's electronic encoder, mission managers said in an update. The encoder is used to control a device that moves the Odyssey spacecraft's solar arrays and the orbiter has already switched a backup unit, they added.

Since then, engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., have managed to command Odyssey to reactivate its high-gain antenna. The spacecraft had been using a slower communications link with its low-gain antenna since the glitch.

"We expect to be back to full operations this week," said Phil Varghese, Odyssey mission project manager at JPL, in a July 20 statement.

Odyssey has been orbiting Mars since 2001, when it began beaming home data and photos of the red planet. In addition to its own Martian observations, the probe has served as a vital communications link to support NASA's Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity, as well as the Phoenix Mars Lander.

Earlier this week, scientists unveiled the best map of Mars ever made, which was created using data from the Mars Odyssey orbiter.

The aging Odyssey orbiter has slipped into its protective "safe mode" several times in recent years, most recently in December.