NASA Mars Orbiter Bounces Back from Computer Glitch

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NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) spacecraft started gathering science data again Sept. 18, three days after a recurring computer glitch temporarily waylaid its mission.

The 5-year-old orbiter put itself into safe mode Sept. 15 after spontaneously rebooting for unknown reasons.

It was the fifth time in two years the MRO spacecraft had experienced computer problems. Before this latest hiccup, the last time the orbiter went into safe mode was August 2009, when it went into a months-long slumber. It was revived in December of that year.

The $420 million orbiter launched in August 2005 on a mission to look for past and present signs of water and to perform a comprehensive survey of Mars’ surface and atmosphere. MRO also serves as a communications link between NASA’s Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity and their controllers on Earth.

The spacecraft also has been helping NASA find the best martian landing spot for the space agency’s next rover, the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity, which is slated to launch late next year.

MRO has generated three times more data than all other deep space missions — those that venture beyond Earth’s Moon — combined.

The orbiter completed the primary science phase of its operations in November 2008, but continues to observe Mars both for science and to support future landing missions, NASA officials said.