Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Blasts Off for Red Planet

Anthony Duignan-Cabrera and Leonard David in

H_mro_orbitart_02MRO was designed to be “NASA’s google search engine”, Garvin said, to cut down the number of compelling places both at the surface and below the martian landscape that cry out for future exploration.

The spacecraft is carrying a hefty science payload to Mars, with six instruments designed to track Martian weather, resolve objects on the surface the size of a kitchen table and measure the planet’s composition and atmospheric structure with more detail than ever before.

“The MRO spacecraft is many things,” Richard Zurek, the mission’s project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), told prior to launch. “It’s aweather satellite, it’s a geological surveyor, and it’s a scout for future missions.”

The orbital spacecraft is expected to be the vanguard for two landers NASA plans to launch toward Mars in the next five years, and will identify potential landing targets. The Phoenix lander is currently scheduled to launch in 2007 and touchdown in the planet’s polar region. A large rover, the Mars Science Laboratory, is expected to launch in 2009.

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