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Martian year (686 Earth days).
Two radars installed at NASA's Kennedy Space Center tracked the recent launch of the Mercury-bound MESSENGER spacecraft, and demonstrated they can be of assistance when the Space Shuttle returns to flight next year. During the launch, the radars "saw" the rocket's nine solid rocket boosters separate, as well as the jettison of its first stage and payload fairing - they could even see pieces of ice falling away. This means that the radars will be able to track the Space Shuttle as it launches, and spot any debris that falls off, regardless of visibility, darkness or cloud cover.
NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft has now completed all of its assigned scientific duties, so controllers are letting it get some extra credit. The spacecraft was originally tasked with mapping the surface of Mars, and searching for various substances, including water - it found huge deposits of water ice just a few metres under the surface. Odyssey will now be continued to at least September 2006, giving controllers another Martian year (686 Earth days) to watch how the planet changes through the seasons. The spacecraft will also be able to assist the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, due to reach the planet in March, 2006.
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