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Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter Follows the Water
If Mars once had lots of water, where did it go? The answer to that question is one of the greatest mysteries to solve in the exploration of Mars.

Many scientists believe that Mars once had much more water than is visible today. Billions of years ago, Earth and Mars might have been very similar places. Following the water really means looking for scientific evidence that water was present in the past or is present today below the planet's surface. Scientists are planning to use penetrating radar to probe deep below Mars' surface for evidence of frozen water reservoirs.

Opportunities to launch Mars missions come about every 26 months when the planets are closest to each other and NASA is already preparing for the next Earth, Mars encounter. NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. is managing the development of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter for launch by August, 2005. Assembly of the spacecraft is underway at Lockheed Martin Space Systems, Denver, Colo.

Artistic concept of Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter The new spacecraft is now in its testing phase and has already logged a few firsts. The orbiter will be outfitted with a powerful telescopic camera that will be able to see precise details as small as a coffee table from orbit. It'll beam back images using the widest dish antenna and highest power level operated at Mars.

A closer look at Mars awaits us when the Reconnaissance Orbiter visits the Red Planet in 2005

Another major instrument will be a spectrometer for identifying surface minerals. Compared with similar instruments sent to Mars earlier, this one is upgraded to see more detailed evidence of water-related minerals in a smaller area. Other orbiter tasks will be to help planners evaluate landing sites for future missions, determine risks and the potential for various scientific experiments.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is only one in a continuing stream of Mars research spacecraft. NASA has plans for others with a lander called Phoenix for a launch opportunity in 2007 and a Mars Science Laboratory in development for a 2009 launch opportunity.

For further information please visit:
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and John F. Kennedy Space Center