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Mars Craft Routed to Safer Orbit

October 15, 1997|K.C. COLE | TIMES SCIENCE WRITER

NASA's Mars Global Surveyor spacecraft, currently sliding into orbit around Mars, has been routed to a higher, safer orbit while engineers try to figure out why one of the spacecraft's solar panels started wiggling.

The panel, which failed to lock into proper position after launch, now also appears to have overshot its fully deployed position. The spacecraft is using the solar panels like wings to brake its motion as it enters Martian orbit.

Scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena say the problems may have been caused by a sudden and unexplained doubling of the density of the Martian atmosphere during Global Surveyor's last pass by the Red Planet on Sunday. Mission managers say they will take at least a couple of weeks to study the problem before resuming normal operations.

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