Source Pravda.Ru

Mars Orbiter to lunch on Thursday

The mission will lift off from Launch Complex 41, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and is the first government launch of Lockheed Martin's Atlas V launch vehicle. The orbiter will study Mars to understand the planet's water riddles and to advance the exploration of the mysterious red planet.

NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) is ready for a morning launch on Thursday, Aug. 11. The spacecraft will arrive at Mars in March 2006 for a mission to understand the planet's water riddles and to advance the exploration of the mysterious red planet.

The mission's first launch opportunity window is 4:50 to 6:35 a.m. PDT, Thursday. If the launch is postponed, additional launch windows open daily at different times each morning through August. For trips from Earth to Mars, the planets move into good position for only a short period every 26 months. The best launch position is when Earth is about to overtake Mars in their concentric racing lanes around the Sun.

"The teams preparing this orbiter and its launch vehicle have done excellent work and kept to schedule. We have a big spacecraft loaded with advanced instruments for inspecting Mars in greater detail than any previous orbiter, and we have the first Atlas V launch vehicle to carry an interplanetary mission. A very potent and exciting combination," said NASA's Mars Exploration Program Director Doug McCuistion.

It is the first government launch of Lockheed Martin's Atlas V launch vehicle. "We're ready to fly, counting down through final procedures," said Chuck Dovale, director for expendable-launch-vehicle launches at NASA Kennedy Space Center, Fla., information from Physorg official site.

According to BBC, the MRO is the biggest spacecraft to be sent to Mars, carrying some of the most sophisticated instruments ever.

"MRO is the next step in our ambitious exploration of Mars," said Douglas McCuistion.

"We expect to use this spacecraft's eyes in the sky in coming years as our primary tools to identify and evaluate the best places for future missions to land."

The spacecraft will study the composition and structure of Mars and serve as a powerful communications relay for future missions to the surface.

One of its scientific objectives is to explore whether Mars could once have supported microbial life. Its cameras and spectrometers will search the surface for features related to water, without which life is not thought able to survive. Meanwhile, a radar sounder will look for liquid water reservoirs that may exist beneath the surface of Mars.

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