A Day In Astronomy: The Launch of the Mars Odyssey

Image (Source): The Mars Odyssey orbiter. (NASA)

On this day in 2001, NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter was launched towards Mars to map and search the Red Planet for water. The mission itself took its name from Arthur C. Clarke’s novel 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Mars Odyssey successfully discovered Martian water. Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, which leads the Odyssey mission, stated that “Before Odyssey, we didn’t know where this water was stored on the planet…We detected it for the first time from orbit and later confirmed it was there using the Phoenix lander.”

In addition to conducting its own studies, the Mars Odyssey was also used as a space satellite relaying data between Earth and Mars from other scientific missions, such as NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers. The orbiter is part of what is called the Mars Relay Network, currently consisting of five orbiters (see below).

The Mars Odyssey is now the oldest oldest spacecraft still working at the Red Planet. It should be able to continue its work through 2025. You can find more information about the mission from this NASA site.

Image (Credit): Five spacecraft currently in orbit about the Red Planet make up the Mars Relay Network to transmit commands from Earth to surface missions and receive science data back from them. Clockwise from top left: NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO), Mars Atmospheric and Volatile EvolutioN (MAVEN), Mars Odyssey, and the European Space Agency’s (ESA’s) Mars Express and Trace Gas Orbiter (TGO). (NASA/JPL-Caltech, ESA)