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In this image, a yellow dot in the middle represents the Sun.  A blue circle around the Sun represents the Earth in orbit around the Sun and a red line outside of that represents Mars orbiting.  A blue dot on the blue line represent liftoff of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter from Earth on August 12, 2005.  A green and yellow line represents the spacecraft's journey away from Earth and toward Mars.  Opportunities for trajectory correction maneuvers (TCMs) are marked along the green and yellow line.  Some major events in the mission are labeled: launch, cruise, approach and Mars orbit insertion.
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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is on the Approach

NASA's next martian orbiter has gotten one step closer to the red planet with the transition from cruise phase to approach phase!

"Cruise is a deceptive term - we certainly weren't playing shuffleboard," joked project manager Jim Graf. "It was a very busy time for the team. Many tests were conducted to ensure that the instruments onboard were functioning properly and our navigators performed trajectory correction maneuvers to keep us on a very precise path to Mars."

Speaking of that precision, the third of four possible course corrections was deemed unnecessary this week.

"The navigation solutions have shown a great consistency since the second trajectory correction maneuver was executed on November 18," said Han You, navigation team chief. "More importantly, the current data indicate that the spacecraft aim for insertion into Mars' orbit is well within the projected target. If the current trend continues, the spacecraft will require only a very small nudge to fine tune the final aim."

The next trajectory correction maneuver opportunity is scheduled for February 28, 2006. The orbiter will arrive at the planet on March 10, 2006.

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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