A 2001 space odyssey indeed! On this day in 2001, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft launched, and now, 3,333 days later, the robotic spacecraft is still going strong. In orbit around the Red Planet, Mars Odyssey has collected more than 130,000 images and continues to send information to Earth about Martian geology, climate, and mineralogy. Last December, Mars Odyssey broke the record for the longest-serving spacecraft at Mars, besting the Mars Global Surveyor, which operated in orbit of Mars from 1997 to 2006.
Measurements by Odyssey have enabled scientists to create maps of minerals and chemical elements and identify regions with buried water ice. Images that measure the surface temperature have provided spectacular views of Martian topography.
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Early in the mission, Odyssey determined that radiation in low-Mars orbit is twice that in low-Earth orbit. This is an essential piece of information for eventual human exploration because of its potential health effects — Odyssey has provided vital support to ongoing exploration of Mars by relaying data from the Mars rovers to Earth via the spacecraft’s UHF antenna.
Odyssey will support the 2012 landing of the Mars Science Laboratory and surface operations of that mission. Mars Science Laboratory, a.k.a Curiosity, will assess whether its landing area has had environmental conditions favorable for microbial life and preserving evidence about whether life has existed there. The rover will carry the largest, most advanced set of instruments for scientific studies ever sent to the Martian surface.
Mars Odyssey carries three main science instruments: The Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS), the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), and the Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE).