NASA to conquer Mars

NASA is going to launch a new Mars probe. But the company decided to delay the launch by 24 hours because of problems with the new Atlas V rocket launcher.

The $500m (Ј280m) Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) will lift off from Cape Canaveral in Florida on Thursday, after a one-delay due to safety concerns.

The mission's main aim is to discover more about the history of water on Mars. During its 25-month mission, the MRO will scan the surface of Mars. The data it captures, including images in extreme close-up, will yield information about subsurface water, the minerals in the Martian soil, and the distribution of dust and water in the atmosphere. The orbiter will also monitor the daily global weather.

One of the cameras on board, the HiRISE, will be able to capture details of objects the size of a small table, raising the possibility that the missing Beagle 2 lander, and other lost Mars missions, could be seen from orbit.

Despite the huge surface area to be scanned, Professor Pillinger, Beagle 2's lead scientist, is optimistic about the chances of finding the lost craft. "If we could just see some trace of it on the surface then at least we could see how far it got the not knowing is the worst bit. It will be a very difficult thing to do but this is our best chance of finding out what happened," he was quoted as saying by The Register.

The MRO can transmit 10 times more data each minute than previous Mars probes, BBC reports.

The orbiter is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral space centre between 0735 and 0950 local time (1135 and 1350 GMT) on Thursday.

The MRO will join two US orbiters - the Mars Global Surveyor and Mars Odyssey - and one European orbiter, Mars Express, at the Red Planet.

Two U.S. robotic rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have been on the Martian surface for the past 18 months, investigating the geology of Mars, BBC says.

Nasa is planning two further Mars missions this decade: the Phoenix module, set for launch in 2007, and Mars Science Laboratory in 2009.

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