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NASA says Mars Odyssey orbiter will likely recover from glitch (+video)

The 11-year-old orbiter tasked with monitoring Curiosity's landing has lost the use of one of its three reaction wheels, but NASA says it will be fine.

This 11-minute animation depicts key events of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission, which will launch in late 2011 and land a rover, Curiosity, on Mars in August 2012.
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A veteran NASA spacecraft in orbit around Mars is slowly bouncing back from a malfunction suffered last month, but mission managers expect the orbiter to make a full recovery, agency officials said.

In early June, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter lost the use of one of its three reaction wheels, which help control the probe's attitude and orientation in space without needing to fire thrusters.

When the wheel jammed, Odyssey placed itself into a so-called safe mode, which points the spacecraft toward Earth (rather than its normal downward position facing Mars) to ensure better communications access. Mission controllers then instructed Odyssey to use a spare reaction wheel onboard as they assessed the situation.

On July 11, after performing a maneuver to adjust its orbit, Odyssey again placed itself into a precautionary safe mode. The spacecraft remained in this state for 21 hours before mission managers began recovering normal operations, according to NASA officials.

"It's out of safe mode and they're adding science observations and functions a day at a time, in the process of getting it back to full operations," said Guy Webster, a spokesman at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. [Mars Odyssey: Pictures from Longest Mars Mission]

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