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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

Mars probe lands safely; UA camera set

JAKE LACEY

Richard Leis, from operations downlink for HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.  Kupier Space Science Center held a viewing party for the orbital insertion of the HiRes camera onboard a mars probe.
Jake Lacey
JAKE LACEY Richard Leis, from operations downlink for HiRISE on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Kupier Space Science Center held a viewing party for the orbital insertion of the HiRes camera onboard a mars probe.

UA scientists and astronomy enthusiasts cheered as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the UA-built HiRISE camera successfully entered Martian orbit March 10.

More than 100 people were in attendance at the Mars Watch party in the Space Sciences building to witness the simultaneous eruption in applause coming from the High-Resolution Image Science Experiment team and live feed from NASA ground control.

This week is important for the HiRISE team and the UA community, as the orbiter will return its first photographs of the Martian soil.

The orbiter will snap nine pictures as it flies by the Red Planet and gradually closes in to a circular orbit, said HiRISE team leader Alfred McEwen.

After the MRO’s successful orbital insertion, the probe will elliptically spiral toward Mars in a stable, polar orbit, after which the real imaging will begin, McEwen said.

“”May your orbit be reduced until a circle is induced,”” said McEwen, reading a good-luck poem by a team of European scientists.

During this time, the HiRISE camera will enter a 6-month hibernation state and no pictures will be taken, McEwen said.

“”It won’t be until next fall (that) the real deluge of information hits,”” McEwen said.

The first two years of the mission will see a staggering 34 terabytes of data returned from the orbiter – enough information to fill 6,500 CDs or 1,000 DVDs, McEwen said.

Each pixel of the telescopic camera is capable of seeing 25 square centimeters of the planet’s surface, said Eric Eliason, HiRISE operations manager.

This unprecedented resolution will yield images that show 75 square miles at one time and aid scientists in determining possible landing sites for future missions, including next year’s launch of the UA-headed Phoenix mission.

“”One of our main duties is to make sure those areas are safe for landing,”” Eliason said.

Another goal of the MRO will be to look for traces of water on the Martian surface, McEwen said.

“”If humans get to Mars, water will be the most valuable resource in space,”” McEwen said.

Eliason said he anticipates the imaging will shed light on the trace of Martian water.

“”We’ll look for evidence of water,”” Eliason said. “”It would be fascinating to find water seeps. There’s hope that there might be springs.””

The water seep would have to be tens of meters in diameter for it to be identified by the camera, Eliason said.

Other scientific instruments aboard the HiRISE, such as the shallow radar and the spectrometer, will aid in the identification of any water traces.

While in orbit, the MRO will also scan for crash sites of failed Mars missions such as the Mars Polar Lander and the European Space Agency’s Beagle 2 probe.

“”We will be looking for fallen comrades,”” McEwen said.

Eliason said there is a desire to discover the final resting place of previous missions, but such a search would take away from the scientific objectives of the mission.

“”We have plans to do that imaging, but it’s kind of like looking for a needle in a haystack,”” Eliason said.

Many students were on hand to witness the successful orbital insertion of the Mars probe.

“”I’m always a sucker for this NASA stuff,”” said Amy Winkler, an optical sciences graduate student. “”Whenever a project like this takes years and years and they pull it together, it’s really exciting.””

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