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Odyssey begins its third mission extension

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 13 (UPI) -- The U.S. space agency has announced the third two-year extension of the mission of its unmanned Mars Odyssey spacecraft.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said the orbit of the longest-serving of six spacecraft now studying Mars is being altered to gain even better sensitivity for its infrared mapping of Martian minerals. And during the mission extension through September 2010, NASA said Odyssey will point its camera with more flexibility than ever before.

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Scientists said the orbit adjustment will allow Odyssey's Thermal Emission Imaging System to look down at sites when it's mid-afternoon, rather than late afternoon. That will allow the multipurpose camera to take advantage of the infrared radiation emitted by rocks to provide clues to the rocks' makeup.

The orbit was altered by the firing of the spacecraft's thrusters for nearly six minutes on Sept. 30 -- the final day of the mission's second two-year extension.

"This was our biggest maneuver since 2002, and it went well," said Gaylon McSmith, Odyssey mission manager for the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "The spacecraft is in good health. The propellant supply is adequate for operating through at least 2015."

Mars Odyssey was launched in 2001.

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