Space

NASA'S Mars Odyssey spacecraft completes 60,000 orbits of the Red Planet

NASA'S Mars Odyssey spacecraft...
Artists impression of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the longest-operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars
Artists impression of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the longest-operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars
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Artists impression of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the longest-operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars
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Artists impression of the Mars Odyssey orbiter, the longest-operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars
Gale Crater as taken by the THEMIS camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter
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Gale Crater as taken by the THEMIS camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter

NASA's longest servingMartian orbiter, the Mars Odyssey spacecraft, has just achieved ahistoric milestone by completing its 60,000th orbit ofthe Red Planet. As a cornerstoneof the agency's Mars Exploration Program, Odyssey has travelled an impressive 888million miles (1.43 billion km) since arriving in orbit on October 24, 2001. Over the course of its operationallife, the spacecraft has transformed how we see Mars, providing uswith 208,240 images from its Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) alone.

Arguably Odyssey's mostnotable discovery was the existence of large quantities of water icedeposits beneath the surface of the Red Planet. The probe is alsocarrying out vital observations which will inform crewprotection in a manned mission to Mars by monitoring radiationlevels as a part of its Radiation Environment Experiment.

Gale Crater as taken by the THEMIS camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter
Gale Crater as taken by the THEMIS camera on the Mars Odyssey orbiter

Odyssey has also provided the highest-resolution global map of Mars and in 2014, the spacecraft was tasked with documenting the flyby of the comet Siding Spring as it passed within 88,000 miles (139,500km) of the planet.

Odyssey is still goingstrong, and with propellent reserves estimated to last another 10years, the agency is far from done exhausting the probe's scientificpotential. Odysseywill maintain its duties as a communications relay for NASA groundbased assets, while an orbital shift will allow the spacecraft tomonitor conditions in the Martian atmosphere as the morning Sun strikes theRed Planet.

"This orbital milestone is an opportunity to celebrate Odyssey’s many achievements," said Jim Green, NASA’s director of Planetary Science. "Odyssey will continue to help lay a foundation for the first humans to Mars in the 2030s through NASA’s Journey to Mars initiative."

Source: NASA

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