The plucky rovers Spirit and Opportunity and the ice-finding Phoenix Lander have perhaps drawn more attention, but it’s the craft that’s been in steady, silent orbiter that has them all beat for longevity. The Mars Odyssey mission just clicked off its 3,340th day in orbit of Mars yesterday, making it the longest-running human mission to the Red Planet. The Mars Global Surveyor, another orbiter, held the record previously.
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The orbiter’s most famous discovery came a few months into the mission, when Odyssey found evidence for water ice under the Red Planet’s rocky surface. This evidence led to the Phoenix mission, a Mars lander that touched down on the planet’s surface in May 2008, and later confirmed the presence of water there. [MSNBC]
Odyssey, which launched in 2001, has taken a barrage of beautiful Mars photos, as seen in the gallery above. But observation isn’t its only achievement.
Odyssey also has served as a communication relay, handling most of the data sent home by Phoenix and NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Odyssey became the middle link for continuous observation of Martian weather by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. [NASA Press Release]
In the future, it will support the Mars Science Laboratory, the next rover headed for Mars.
DISCOVER: Phoenix Lander Strikes Ice on Mars
DISCOVER: Red Planet Calling: We Have Data
80beats: New Evidence of Ancient Oceans on Mars
80beats: Spirit Doesn’t Return NASA’s Calls; Rover Might Be Gone for Good
80beats: Mars Rover Sets Endurance Record: Photos From Opportunity’s 6 Years On-Planet