NASA has some good news from Mars two weeks before its newest rover is set to land on the planet — they’ll be able to listen to the landing after all. The aging Odyssey orbiter is now properly in place and will relay landing data immediately, as originally planned.
A couple of weeks ago, Odyssey slipped from its path during a common orbit-adjustment maneuver, and put itself into safe mode. Mission managers said July 16 they weren’t sure whether Odyssey would be overhead when the Mars Science Laboratory spacecraft deposits the Mars rover Curiosity at Gale Crater Aug. 5. They later determined that Odyssey would have flown overhead two minutes after landing. This wouldn’t have affected the rover’s autonomous landing at all, just NASA’s ability to find out what happened as quickly as possible.
Now engineers have adjusted Odyssey’s orbit, firing its thrusters for six seconds on Tuesday. As of today, it’s about six minutes ahead of its previous orbital location, and operating normally.
Odyssey is one of three spacecraft — along with the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and the European Mars Express Orbiter — that will listen to Curiosity’s landing. But only Odyssey can relay data instantly, rather than recording it for later playback, like the other two. It has been orbiting Mars since 2001.
Stay tuned for complete coverage of Curiosity’s landing, which is scheduled for 10:31 p.m. Aug. 5 at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., and 1:31 a.m. Aug 6 on the East Coast. And in the meantime, you can learn more about Curiosity’s mission here.