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For the first time since '99, a spacecraft to Mars

Today (Saturday) the spacecraft "Mars Odyssey 2001" was launched to Mars at Cape Kennedy

Avi Blizovsky

The Mars Odyssey 2001 spacecraft was launched in the afternoon (Saturday, Israel time) to Mars. The spacecraft left the launch base in Cape Canaveral, Florida, for a six-month journey in space, at the end of which it will reach Mars and begin orbiting it as a satellite.

If the spacecraft manages to get there safely, it will collect information about the structure of the planet's soil, look for signs of water and provide vital information about the radiation on Mars and the degree of danger it poses to human visitors who may arrive there in the future.

Much rests on the shoulders of the "2001 Mars Odyssey" spacecraft, whose total cost is 297 million dollars. It is the first spacecraft launched to Mars after two failed attempts to reach the planet by spacecraft in 1999. The Odyssey is also the first spacecraft to be sent to Mars after NASA, following the learning of the reasons for the failures, made fundamental changes to its Mars program.

Success in the Odyssey mission will give NASA a boost to continue with an ambitious plan, in which a robot will be sent to Mars, which will collect soil and rock samples and return them to Earth (this plan will not be implemented before 2011). Failure, on the other hand, would deal a heavy blow to NASA's Mars exploration program, and especially to NASA's ambition to launch a spacecraft to the neighboring planet at every launch opportunity, which is created every 26 months.

"We are full of anticipation," said George Pace, Odyssey project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which manages the project for NASA, at a press conference. "The question on everyone's mind is 'will it work?' - And it must work", he added.

^^Reorganization due to the double failure from 99^^

The double failure of the "Mars Climate Orbiter" and "Mars Fuller Lander" spacecraft in 99 caused a reorganization in the control and operation of the project, including more rigorous tests - even at the cost of postponing the launch dates of the spacecraft. From documents published by NASA this week, it becomes clear that the additional tests and changes that had to be made increased the total cost of the Odyssey alone by approximately 12 million dollars.

An independent investigation team and internal NASA test teams determined that the two previous spacecraft failed due to poor management of the test procedures and lack of sufficient budget.
The teams determined that NASA wanted to send many spacecraft to Mars, and as a result allocated to each project about 30% less than the necessary budget.

^^An instrument for locating living conditions^^

If the Odyssey reaches Mars safely, it will try to solve some of the fundamental questions about Mars. The instruments it carries cannot detect life, but scientists expect that they will be able to provide information on whether the conditions on Mars allowed, and may still allow, life.

In the photographs sent by spacecraft that reached the "Red Planet", landscape routes are described that were apparently created by flowing water - including channels, canyons and land formations, which are very similar to an ancient coastline. Scientists believe that beneath the surface of Mars are frozen water reservoirs. Last June, researchers who analyzed photographs sent by the "Mars Global Surveyor" (orbiting around Mars from '97) said that they had found features remarkably similar to the channels created by the eruption of underground water.

Another system, called "Thermal Emission Imaging System" can measure light rays, in the visible and in the infrared range, returned from Mars. Using this system it is possible to map the distribution of minerals such as coals, sulfurs, silicates and other minerals, which are slightly below the surface of Mars.

A device called a "spectrum meter for measuring gamma rays" will make it possible to examine, using remote sensing methods, what is under the surface. He will identify chemical elements present in the soil and determine their frequency. He will also be able to calculate the abundance of hydrogen, thus inferring whether there is water or ice near the surface.

In any case, even if no water is discovered on Mars and it turns out that the red planet is inhospitable to life, its investigation can help understand how life on Earth was formed. Much of the evidence about the beginning of life on Earth has been destroyed by dynamic geological processes. "The clues to the history of Mars are still there," said Pace, "the history of the planet, which was formed at the same time as the Earth, is written in the chemical elements and minerals. They cannot tell the whole story of the development of Mars, but they contribute significant pieces to the puzzle known as Mars."

Will the Odyssey succeed where so many have failed?
This is the first spacecraft launched to Mars after two spacecraft failed one after the other in 1999

If there are no last-minute problems, the Mars Odyssey 2001 spacecraft will be launched to Mars tomorrow. Around eight o'clock in the evening the spaceship will leave
From the launch base in Cape Canaveral, Florida, to a journey of about six months in space, at the end of which you will reach a "star
The Red" and circle around it like a satellite.
If the spacecraft reaches Mars safely, it will collect information about the structure of the planet's soil, look for signs of water and provide vital information about the radiation there and the danger it poses to people who might get there in the future.

Much rests on the shoulders of "Odyssey" ("Mars Odyssey 2001"), which was established at a cost of 297 million dollars. This is the first spacecraft launched to Mars after two spacecraft failed one after the other in 1999. Odyssey is also the first spacecraft that NASA sends to Mars after fundamental changes in its Mars program, in light of
Discovering the reasons for the previous failures.

The 1999 double failure of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Fuller Lander led to a reorganization of project control
and its operation, as well as for more rigorous tests - even at the cost of postponing the launch dates of spacecraft.

From documents published by NASA this week, it becomes clear that the additional tests and the changes that had to be made to the hardware increased the cost of Odyssey alone by about 12 million dollars.

"We are full of anticipation," said George Pace, Odyssey project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, which manages the project for NASA, yesterday. "The question on everyone's mind is 'will it work?' It must work."

Success in the Odyssey mission will strengthen NASA's hands to continue with an ambitious plan in which a robot will be sent to Mars, which will collect soil and rock samples and return them to Earth. This plan will not be implemented before 2011. Failure of the mission, on the other hand, will deal a severe blow to NASA's Mars exploration program, and will damage its ambition to send a spacecraft there every launch opportunity (every 26 months).

An independent investigation team and internal NASA test teams determined that the failure of the two previous spacecraft was due to mismanagement of the test procedures and lack of budget.
According to the teams, NASA wanted to send many spacecraft to Mars, and therefore allocated each project about 30% less than the budget it needed. The orbiter was destroyed due to a software error, caused by confusion between the metric system of measurement and the British system, which uses inches. Contact with the lander was lost moments before it was supposed to land on Mars, probably as a result of a false signal caused by the spacecraft
To think that she had already reached the ground when she was actually at a height of about 40 meters in the air.

"In setting up the Odyssey," said Pace yesterday, "instead of just fixing the problems that caused the failure of the previous missions, we tried to anticipate and prevent a long list of possible risks." To avoid further embarrassing confusion between inches and centimeters, Fais explained, "a detailed record of the measurement method used at each stage of the spacecraft's development was kept." In addition, "Odyssey will enter a higher orbit around Mars to reduce the risk of it getting too close to the atmosphere and being pulled
down".

If Odyssey does make it safely to Mars, it may shed light on some of the mysteries surrounding the planet. The instruments carried by the spacecraft are unable to detect signs of life, but scientists expect that the information transmitted by the instruments will help to understand whether the conditions on Mars allowed, and perhaps still allow, the existence of life.

One of the systems installed on the Odyssey is the "Thermal Emission Imaging System." The system can measure light rays in the visible range and in the infrared range returned from Mars. In this way it is possible to map the distribution of minerals such as coals, sulfurs, silicates, etc., which are slightly below the surface of Mars.

The device "Spectrum meter for measuring gamma rays" will make it possible to examine with remote sensing methods what is under the surface. The device detects chemical elements and determines their concentrations. It will also be able to calculate the hydrogen concentrations, thus inferring whether there is water or ice close to the surface.

Photographs sent by spacecraft in the past from Mars show a landscape that seems to have been created by flowing water: channels, canyons and land formations very similar to an ancient coastline. Scientists also believe that beneath the surface of Mars are frozen water reservoirs. Researchers who analyzed photographs sent by the "Mars Global Surveyor" said in June that they found ground features in the photographs remarkably similar to channels created by the eruption of underground water.

However, even if no water is discovered on Mars and it turns out that the planet is inhospitable to life, its investigation can help in understanding the formation of life on Earth.
Much of the evidence for the beginning of life has been destroyed as a result of the dynamic geological processes going on on Earth. "The clues to the history of Mars are still there," Pace said. "The history of the planet, which was created at the same time as the Earth, is written in the chemical elements and minerals. They will not tell the whole story of the development of Mars, but they contribute significantly to the puzzle known as Mars."

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