Orbiter Begins Journey To Mars

A spacecraft blasted off Friday into a golden early morning sky, beginning a mission to Mars to gather more data on the Red Planet than all combined previous missions.
A spacecraft equipped with millions of dollars in reconnaissance devices began its long journey to Mars Friday and is expected to gather more data on the Red Planet than all combined previous missions.

The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter completed a supersonic blastoff off into a golden early morning sky, lifting off on an Atlas V rocket on a seven-month journey to Mars. A previous attempt was scrubbed Thursday because of a glitch during fueling.

Circling the planet for at least four years, the orbiter is to provide unparalleled information on Mars' weather, climate and geology, which could aid possible future human exploration of the Red Planet.

The $720 million mission is divided into two parts.

During its first two years, the orbiter will help build on NASA's knowledge of the history of ice on the planet. The planet is cold and dry with large caps of frozen water at its poles. But scientists think it was a wetter and possibly warmer place eons ago — conditions that might have been conducive to life. Scientists are also trying to determine if it could support future human outposts.

CBS News Correspondent Jerry Bowen reports that earthlings are thinking of using the same toxic stuff already blamed for global warming here to put some life back on Mars.

"What we propose is to use greenhouse gases – the same ones that are currently on the earth causing climate change," said Margarita Marinova, a graduate student at the California Institute of Technology.

Marinova says that the goal is to warm Mars enough so that the planet's south polar cap will evaporate.

Equipped with the largest telescopic camera ever sent to another planet, the orbiter also will collect data that will help NASA plan where to land two robotic explorers later this decade.

The Phoenix Mars Scout, in search of organic chemicals, will be launched in 2007, and the Mars Science Laboratory will follow two years later.