Mars Odyssey Blasts Off

ByABC News
April 7, 2001, 12:17 PM

C A P E  C A N A V E R A L, Fla., April 7 -- The Mars Odyssey spacecraft rocketedaway today on a 286 million-mile journey to the Red Planet andwhat NASA hopes will be a mission of redemption.

It is the space agency's first launch to Mars since a pair ofhumiliating failures in 1999.

"Absolutely fantastic," said Ed Weiler, head of NASA's spacescience office.

NASA program scientist Jim Garvin, noted that every rocketlaunch is accompanied by exhilaration, as well as trepidation.

"But for Mars and the fact this is such a vital step for us tokeep the progress going, our sense of electricity is heightened,"he said. "There's literally electricity in the air."

Scenic Launch

Some 100 people gathered at the press viewing area at CapeCanaveral Air Force Station, a larger crowd than usual for anunmanned launch. Everything went well as the Delta rocket liftedoff at the appointed moment at 11:02 a.m., carrying Mars Odysseytoward its destiny. The weather was perfect, with a stunninglyclear aqua sky.

An on-board camera showed the launch site, then the cape, thenthe Florida coast growing smaller as the rocket climbed higher.Another camera panned on the golden-colored Mars Odyssey at the topof the booster, coasting 100 miles above Earth and eventuallyspinning away.

An exuberant Garvin oohed and aahed as he watched the flight ona video monitor.

A half-hour after liftoff, right on cue, Mars Odyssey waspropelled out of Earth orbit at more than 25,000 mph and spedtoward an October rendezvous with Mars.

"Mars Odyssey: Have a safe journey to Mars," the launchcommentator said as flight controllers applauded and shook hands.

Scrutinized Effort

Named after Arthur C. Clarke's science fiction novel and movie,"2001: A Space Odyssey," Mars Odyssey is quite possibly the mostscrutinized spacecraft ever sent to the Red Planet. Its primarymission is to search for water at or just beneath the Martiansurface, from a 250-mile-high orbit.

"This mission has to succeed, there's no question," Weilersaid Friday. "We've done the kind of testing, we've done the kindof checking that we know how to do and beyond that, I reallydon't know what else we could do."