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In this image, the sun is in the center.  Two circles go around the sun, representing Earth's orbit and Mars' orbit.  MRO is shown transferring from Earth toward Mars.
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Smooth Sailing

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter began its cruise phase and successfully completed the first two vital tasks.

The word cruise is a deceptive one, at least in the context of navigating spacecraft. During cruise, or the period after launch and before the final approach to Mars, the spacecraft and its support team are very busy. This is no time to lounge with a frosty tropical drink or strike up a conga line around the pool deck. After the cheers died down following the successful August launch, it was time to get to work again, reserving the ultimate celebration for the orbiter's first return of unprecedented martian data.

Tasks one and two on the orbiter's cruise "to do" list were the first trajectory correction maneuver and the initial check of the science instruments. Trajectory correction maneuvers are common, planned course adjustments that navigators perform on most interplanetary missions. In order to set the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on its precise path to Mars, engines are fired to tweak the direction. On August 27, 2005 a 44.5-second burn placed the spacecraft almost exactly where navigators intended.

The instrument turn on and initial check was performed on August 30-31, 2005. The instruments were powered sequentially and all instruments turned on and returned instrument housekeeping data. Most objectives were achieved, although both the HiRISE camera and CRISM spectrometer terminated activities early due to internal temperature checks that indicated irregular conditions. For the HiRISE camera, the team conferred and decided to adjust thermal conditions - kind of like lowering the temperature on the thermostat to kick on the air conditioning - to make the instrument more comfortable. After that procedure, the camera checkout was positive.

Turning on the coolers in the instrument cooling system for the CRISM spectrometer caused a sensor on the instrument to go into safe mode because it thought it was too cold. That issue has been resolved and the complete check of the instrument will be conducted in December. The MARCI and Context Camera each took a single image (of space), which were successfully returned. MARCI also took calibration images of the Earth and Moon three days after launch. All other instruments checkouts went well.

Credit: NASA/JPL

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