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NASA relieved as probe makes orbit

Dodges the 'Mars curse'

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has successfully entered orbit round the Red Planet, NASA has announced. Eggheads at Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena cheered the news, a boost after a series of Mars-related mishaps.

JPL chief Mars man Dan McCleese explained the collective relief: "It's almost like dodging a bullet. It's going to take a few trips around the planet to know for sure, but from what we can see so far it's a near-perfect entry into orbit."

The Reconnaissance Orbiter has been Mars-bound since August, and after cruising at 11,000mph slammed on the brakes over the weekend to manoeuvre itself into an elliptical orbit. NASA has lost two of the last four probes it sent to the Red Planet.

Touted as the most advanced piece of kit ever dispatched to another planet, the probe is set to spend six months whizzing round Mars once every 35 hours. It'll make underground, surface and atmospheric measurements at a closer range and higher detail than ever before, looking for more signs of water and life, and scouting possible landing sites for Bush's pet manned Mars mission.

NASA's official mission website can be found here.

For those lacking the $720m the mission is expected to cost, Google Mars launched today. If anyone spots a black helicopter, we're all doomed. ®

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