- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 30, 2001

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) NASA has slowed the process of bringing the Mars Odyssey into a tighter orbit around Mars, delaying the unmanned probe's first snapshots of the Red Planet.
Odyssey had been expected to take its first image of Mars on Sunday, but that was pushed back to today because the initial atmosphere-skimming maneuver was being extended.
"We're just being conservative," mission manager David Spencer said at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "We've added a couple steps and are going at it more slowly."
Despite the delay, the $297 million project "couldn't be going better," Mr. Spencer said.
On a mission to study the mineral makeup of Mars' surface and look for deposits of frozen water, Odyssey reached the planet yesterday.
On Friday, the probe began a process called aerobraking, using friction with the Martian atmosphere to slow down and drop lower. It passed within 98 miles of the surface for about seven minutes. The process was repeated at lower altitudes on Saturday and Sunday.
When completed in January, the aerobraking will reduce Odyssey's egg-shaped, 181/2-hour orbit and make it more circular. The spacecraft then will fire small thrusters to achieve a 21/2-hour, 250-mile-high mapping orbit.
The limiting factor on how aggressively aerobraking can be conducted is the heating of Odyssey's winglike solar array created by friction. Damage from too much heat could reduce its ability to provide power.
"The density [of atmosphere] that was experienced was very consistent with our predictions," Mr. Spencer said. "We are very pleased. We are right on schedule."
The spacecraft is to begin photographing the planet from a site over the south pole.
The Odyssey mission is intended to map the distribution of minerals and chemicals across the surface of Mars and provide daily weather reports.
It also will seek out signs of frozen water deposits that might help determine whether life has ever existed on the Red Planet.
Two 1999 missions with similar studies failed: The Climate Orbiter flew too close to the planet because of a mix-up converting metric units, and the Polar Lander likely plunged to the surface because of a software error.

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