Washington: NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft will reach a major milestone today, when it completes its 60,000th orbit since arriving at the red planet in 2001.
Jim Green, NASA’s director of Planetary Science, said that this orbital milestone is an opportunity to celebrate Odyssey’s many achievements, adding that Odyssey will continue to help lay a foundation for the first humans to Mars in the 2030s through NASA’s Journey to Mars initiative.
Odyssey’s orbital milestone translates into about 888 million miles (1.43 billion kilometers) traversed by the spacecraft. In addition to the 286 million miles (460 million kilometers) covered on its trip from Earth to Mars, the spacecraft is a high-mileage vehicle like no other, but remains in fine condition.
Odyssey, which has discovered widespread water ice just beneath the surface of the red planet, began orbiting Mars almost 14 years ago, on October 23, 2001.
Odyssey’s major discoveries began in the early months of its two-year primary mission, with gamma-ray and neutron measurements that indicated plentiful water ice just beneath the surface at high latitudes on Mars.
The spacecraft’s unexpectedly long service has enabled achievements such as completion of the highest-resolution global map of Mars and observation of seasonal and year-to-year changes, such as freezing and thawing of carbon dioxide, scientists said.
Odyssey currently is completing an adjustment to an orbit that will position it to pass over the Martian terrain lit by early-morning sunlight rather than afternoon light. In its current orbit, the spacecraft always flies near each pole and along what is called the terminator.
The terminator is a “line” encircling Mars that passes through any point on the planet’s surface at sunrise and again at sunset, separating the portion of Mars lit by the sun from the portion experiencing darkness, dividing day and night.
Named after the bestselling novel “2001: A Space Odyssey” by Arthur C. Clarke, Odyssey began orbiting Mars almost 14 years ago, on Oct. 23, 2001. On Dec. 15, 2010, it became the longest-operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars, and continues to hold that record today.