Mars Orbiter Glitch Stalls Science for Weeks

Hello Mars, Meet 'MR. O': The 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 (Image credit: NASA/JPL/Corby Waste)

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter will be kept in its safemode ? suspending its science observations of the red planet for several weeks? while engineers try to investigate what is plaguing the spacecraft.

The 4-year-oldorbiter has mysteriously rebooted its main computer three times this year,most recently onAug. 26. It also inexplicably switched to a backup computer last month in a different malfunction.

During analysis of the four safe-mode events, NASA engineershave identified a vulnerability of the spacecraft to the effects of subsequentevents. They are currently developing added protection to eliminate thisvulnerability while they continue analysis of the string of incidents.

NASA launched the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter toward the redplanet in 2005. It is the most powerfulorbiter ever sent to Mars and has beamed home more data and images than allother missions to the red planet combined.

The orbiter completed its primary mission in late 2008 andis currently in the middle of an extended mission that runs through mid-2010.

Continuing science observations are planned when the spacecraftis brought out of its current precautionary mode.

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