Spacecraft Orbiting Mars Suffers Malfunction

Mars Orbiter Needs Risky Computer Reboot
An artist's rendition of the Mars Odyssey spacecraft in orbit above Mars. (Image credit: NASA)

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

The MarsOdyssey spacecraft entered a hibernation-like "safe mode" onJuly 14 due to a glitch with the 9-year-old probe's electronic encoder, missionmanagers said in an update. The encoder is used to control a device that movesthe Odyssey spacecraft's solar arrays and the orbiter has already switched abackup unit, they added.

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

"We expect to be back to full operations thisweek," said Phil Varghese, Odysseymission project manager at JPL, in a July 20 statement.

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

Earlier thisweek, scientists unveiled the bestmap of Mars ever made, which was created using data from the Mars Odysseyorbiter.

The agingOdyssey orbiter has slipped into its protective "safe mode" severaltimes in recent years, mostrecently in December.

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