NASA engineers spotted a disaster in the nick of time, and it may have just saved a critical mission near Mars.
NASA dodged a bullet, or more specifically a moon. A huge disaster was narrowly prevented by NASA engineers, who discovered after running calculations that the MAVEN spacecraft, a critical asset that is currently orbiting Mars, was on a collision course with the Red Planet’s irregularly shaped moon Phobos, necessitating an evasive maneuver.
NASA said in a statement that navigators predicted MAVEN would smash into Phobos within a week’s time after the spacecraft entered the moon’s orbit, but fortunately the agency was able to do a small engine fire to cause it to miss Phobos by two and a half minutes.
The MAVEN orbiter is in its third year in orbit around Mars, where it is studying the Red Planet’s atmosphere. Two other orbiters, Mars Odyssey and Reconnaissance, are also circling Mars, but are in a much lower orbit where they are under no threat of colliding with Phobos, which is situated 3,700 miles from the Martian surface.
NASA said in a statement: “The Mars Atmosphere and VolatileEvolutioN (MAVEN)spacecraft has been orbiting Mars for just over two years, studying the Red Planet’s upper atmosphere, ionosphere and interactions with the sun and solar wind. On Tuesday the spacecraft carried out a rocket motor burn that boosted its velocity by 0.4 meters per second (less than 1 mile per hour). Although a small correction, it was enough that — projected to one week later when the collision would otherwise have occurred — MAVEN would miss the lumpy, crater-filled moon by about 2.5 minutes.”