2001 Mars Odyssey

2001 Mars Odyssey

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2001 Mars Odyssey is a robotic spacecraft
Robotic spacecraft
A robotic spacecraft is a spacecraft with no humans on board, that is usually under telerobotic control. A robotic spacecraft designed to make scientific research measurements is often called a space probe. Many space missions are more suited to telerobotic rather than crewed operation, due to...

In physics, an orbit is the gravitationally curved path of an object around a point in space, for example the orbit of a planet around the center of a star system, such as the Solar System...

ing the planet Mars
Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun in the Solar System. The planet is named after the Roman god of war, Mars. It is often described as the "Red Planet", as the iron oxide prevalent on its surface gives it a reddish appearance...

. The project was developed by NASA
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation's civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research...

, and contracted out to Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin
Lockheed Martin is an American global aerospace, defense, security, and advanced technology company with worldwide interests. It was formed by the merger of Lockheed Corporation with Martin Marietta in March 1995. It is headquartered in Bethesda, Maryland, in the Washington Metropolitan Area....

, with an expected cost for the entire mission of US$297 million. Its mission is to use spectrometer
A spectrometer is an instrument used to measure properties of light over a specific portion of the electromagnetic spectrum, typically used in spectroscopic analysis to identify materials. The variable measured is most often the light's intensity but could also, for instance, be the polarization...

s and electronic imager
Electronic imager
An electronic imager is an electronic device that detects electromagnetic radiation with spatial resolution. It is the electronic analog of the photographic plate or film. Common applications are digital photography and astrophotography....

s to hunt for evidence of past or present water
Water is a chemical substance with the chemical formula H2O. A water molecule contains one oxygen and two hydrogen atoms connected by covalent bonds. Water is a liquid at ambient conditions, but it often co-exists on Earth with its solid state, ice, and gaseous state . Water also exists in a...

 and volcanic activity on Mars. It is hoped that the data Odyssey obtains will help answer the question of whether life has ever existed on Mars. It also acts as a relay for communications between the Mars Exploration Rover
Mars Exploration Rover
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Mission is an ongoing robotic space mission involving two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, exploring the planet Mars...

s and the Phoenix lander to Earth
Earth is the third planet from the Sun, and the densest and fifth-largest of the eight planets in the Solar System. It is also the largest of the Solar System's four terrestrial planets...

. The mission was named as a tribute to Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, famous for his short stories and novels, among them 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein,...

, evoking the name of 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey (film)
2001: A Space Odyssey is a 1968 epic science fiction film produced and directed by Stanley Kubrick, and co-written by Kubrick and Arthur C. Clarke, partially inspired by Clarke's short story The Sentinel...


Odyssey was launched April 7, 2001 on a Delta II
Delta II
Delta II was an American space launch system, originally designed and built by McDonnell Douglas. Delta II is part of the Delta rocket family and was in service from 1989 until November 1, 2011...

 rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station
Cape Canaveral Air Force Station is an installation of the United States Air Force Space Command's 45th Space Wing, headquartered at nearby Patrick Air Force Base. Located on Cape Canaveral in the state of Florida, CCAFS is the primary launch head of America's Eastern Range with four launch pads...

, and reached Mars orbit on October 24, 2001, at 2:30 a.m. UTC (October 23, 7:30 p.m. PDT, 10:30 p.m. EDT). The spacecraft's main engine fired in order to brake the spacecraft's speed, which allowed it to be captured into orbit around Mars. Odyssey used a technique called "aerobraking
Aerobraking is a spaceflight maneuver that reduces the high point of an elliptical orbit by flying the vehicle through the atmosphere at the low point of the orbit . The resulting drag slows the spacecraft...

" that gradually brought the spacecraft closer to Mars with each orbit. By using the atmosphere of Mars to slow down the spacecraft in its orbit, rather than firing its engine or thrusters, Odyssey was able to save more than 200 kilograms (440.9 lb) of propellant. Aerobraking ended in January, and Odyssey began its science mapping mission on February 19, 2002.

By December 15, 2010 it broke the record for longest serving spacecraft at Mars, with 3,340 days of operation, claiming the title from NASA's Mars Global Surveyor
Mars Global Surveyor
The Mars Global Surveyor was a US spacecraft developed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory and launched November 1996. It began the United States's return to Mars after a 10-year absence. It completed its primary mission in January 2001 and was in its third extended mission phase when, on 2...

. As of late 2011 it holds the record (10+ years) for the longest-surviving continually active spacecraft in orbit around a planet other than Earth.


Mars Odyssey was originally a component of the Mars Surveyor 2001
Mars Surveyor 2001
The Mars Surveyor 2001 project was a multi-part Mars exploration mission intended as a follow-up to Mars Surveyor 1998. After the two probes of the 1998 project, Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander, were both lost, NASA's "better, faster, cheaper" exploration philosophy was re-evaluated,...

program, and was named the Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter. It was intended to have a companion spacecraft known as Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander
Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander
The NASA Mars Surveyor 2001 Lander was a planned Mars probe which was canceled in May 2000 in the wake of the failures of the Mars Climate Orbiter and Mars Polar Lander missions in late 1999...

, but the lander mission was canceled in May 2000 following the failures of Mars Climate Orbiter
Mars Climate Orbiter
The Mars Climate Orbiter was a 338 kilogram robotic space probe launched by NASA on December 11, 1998 to study the Martian climate, atmosphere, surface changes and to act as the communications relay in the Mars Surveyor '98 program, for Mars Polar Lander...

 and Mars Polar Lander
Mars Polar Lander
The Mars Polar Lander, also referred to as the Mars Surveyor '98 Lander, was a 290-kilogram robotic spacecraft lander, launched by NASA on January 3, 1999, to study the soil and climate of Planum Australe, a region near the south pole on Mars, as part of the Mars Surveyor '98 mission...

 in late 1999. Subsequently, the name 2001 Mars Odyssey was selected for the orbiter as a specific tribute to the vision of space exploration shown in works by Arthur C. Clarke
Arthur C. Clarke
Sir Arthur Charles Clarke, CBE, FRAS was a British science fiction author, inventor, and futurist, famous for his short stories and novels, among them 2001: A Space Odyssey, and as a host and commentator in the British television series Mysterious World. For many years, Robert A. Heinlein,...

, including 2001: A Space Odyssey
2001: A Space Odyssey (novel)
2001: A Space Odyssey is a science fiction novel by Arthur C. Clarke. It was developed concurrently with Stanley Kubrick's film version and published after the release of the film...

. The music from Mythodea
Mythodea: Music for the NASA Mission: 2001 Mars Odyssey is a choral symphony by Greek electronic composer and artist Vangelis. Originally premiered in concert in 1993, it was published in 2001 by Vangelis' new record label Sony Classical, which also set up the NASA connection and promoted a new...

 by Greek composer Vangelis
Evangelos Odysseas Papathanassiou is a Greek composer of electronic, progressive, ambient, jazz, pop rock and orchestral music, under the artist name Vangelis...

 was used as the theme music for the mission.

Scientific instruments

The three primary instruments Odyssey uses are the:
  • Thermal Emission Imaging System
    Thermal Emission Imaging System
    The Thermal Emission Imaging System is a camera on board the 2001 Mars Odyssey orbiter. It images Mars in the visible and infrared parts of the electromagnetic spectrum in order to determine the thermal properties of the surface and to refine the distribution of minerals on the surface of Mars as...


  • Gamma Ray Spectrometer
    Gamma Ray Spectrometer
    Gamma Ray Spectrometer is a gamma-ray spectrometer on the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft, a space probe orbiting the planet Mars since 2001. Part of the United State's NASA's Mars Surveyor Program, it returns geological data about Mars' surface such as identifying elements and the location of water...

    (GRS), includes the High Energy Neutron Detector (HEND), provided by Russia
    Russia or , officially known as both Russia and the Russian Federation , is a country in northern Eurasia. It is a federal semi-presidential republic, comprising 83 federal subjects...


  • Mars Radiation Environment Experiment
    Mars Radiation Environment Experiment
    The Martian Radiation Experiment, or MARIE was designed to measure the radiation environment of Mars using an energetic particle spectrometer as part of the science mission of the 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft...


On May 28, 2002, NASA reported that Odyssey's GRS had detected large amounts of hydrogen
Hydrogen is the chemical element with atomic number 1. It is represented by the symbol H. With an average atomic weight of , hydrogen is the lightest and most abundant chemical element, constituting roughly 75% of the Universe's chemical elemental mass. Stars in the main sequence are mainly...

, a sign that there must be ice lying within a meter of the planet's surface. GRS is a collaboration between University of Arizona
University of Arizona
The University of Arizona is a land-grant and space-grant public institution of higher education and research located in Tucson, Arizona, United States. The University of Arizona was the first university in the state of Arizona, founded in 1885...

's Lunar and Planetary Lab.
Lunar and Planetary Laboratory
The Lunar and Planetary Laboratory is a research center for planetary science located in Tucson, Arizona. It is also a graduate school, constituting the Department of Planetary Sciences at the University of Arizona...

, the Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory
Los Alamos National Laboratory is a United States Department of Energy national laboratory, managed and operated by Los Alamos National Security , located in Los Alamos, New Mexico...

, and Russia's Space Research Institute.


Odyssey has served as the primary means of communications for NASA’s Mars surface explorers in the past decade and will continue that role for the upcoming Curiosity rover. About 85 percent of images and other data from NASA's twin Mars Exploration Rover
Mars Exploration Rover
NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Mission is an ongoing robotic space mission involving two rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, exploring the planet Mars...

s, Spirit
Spirit rover
Spirit, MER-A , is a robotic rover on Mars, active from 2004 to 2010. It was one of two rovers of NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission. It landed successfully on Mars at 04:35 Ground UTC on January 4, 2004, three weeks before its twin, Opportunity , landed on the other side of the planet...

 and Opportunity
Opportunity rover
Opportunity, MER-B , is a robotic rover on the planet Mars, active since 2004. It is the remaining rover in NASA's ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission...

, have reached Earth via communications relay by Odyssey. Odyssey continues to receive transmissions from the surviving rover every day. The orbiter helped analyze potential landing sites for the rovers and performed the same task for NASA's Phoenix mission, which landed on Mars in May, 2008. Odyssey aided NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter is a NASA multipurpose spacecraft designed to conduct reconnaissance and Exploration of Mars from orbit...

, which reached Mars in March 2006, by monitoring atmospheric conditions during months when the newly arrived orbiter used aerobraking to alter its orbit into the desired shape.

On September 30, 2008 the spacecraft altered its orbit to gain better sensitivity for its infrared mapping of Martian minerals. The new orbit eliminated the use of the gamma ray detector, due to the potential for overheating the instrument at the new orbit.

NASA has approved a fourth two year extended mission, through August 2012, to allow for the observation of year-to-year differences in phenomena like polar ice, clouds, and dust storms, as well as a much more sensitive mapping of martian minerals. A fifth extended mission (to July 2014) would be likely if Curiosity lands successfully in late 2012. The orbiter contains enough propellant to operate at least until 2015. In 2010, a spokesman for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory stated that Odyssey could continue operating until at least about 2016 and "perhaps even well beyond".

As of late 2010, THEMIS and two parts of the GRS suite — the neutron spectrometer and the high-energy neutron detector — are currently in use. The third sensor for that suite — the gamma ray detector — is not currently in use. The payload’s MARIE radiation experiment stopped taking measurements after a large solar event bombarded the Odyssey spacecraft on October 28, 2003. Engineers believe the most likely cause is that a computer chip was damaged by a solar particle smashing into the MARIE computer board.

Water on Mars

On July 31, 2008, NASA announced that the Phoenix lander confirmed the presence of water on Mars, as predicted in 2002 based on data from the Odyssey orbiter. The science team is trying to determine whether the water ice ever thaws enough to be available for biology, and if carbon-containing chemicals and other raw materials for life are present.

See also

  • Exploration of Mars
    Exploration of Mars
    The exploration of Mars has been an important part of the space exploration programs of the Soviet Union, the United States, Europe, and Japan. Dozens of robotic spacecraft, including orbiters, landers, and rovers, have been launched toward Mars since the 1960s...

  • Mars Student Imaging Project
    Mars Student Imaging Project
    The Mars Student Imaging Project is a collaboration between NASA and Arizona State University's Mars Education Program that gives United States grade school students the opportunity to participate in Mars research...

  • Nickel hydrogen battery
    Nickel hydrogen battery
    A nickel–hydrogen battery is a rechargeable electrochemical power source based on nickel and hydrogen. It differs from a nickel–metal hydride battery by the use of hydrogen in a pressurized cell at up to 1200 psi pressure.The cathode is made up of a dry sintered porous nickel plaque, which...

  • Space exploration
    Space exploration
    Space exploration is the use of space technology to explore outer space. Physical exploration of space is conducted both by human spaceflights and by robotic spacecraft....

External links