Mars Odyssey, launched in April 7, 2001, is a robotic spacecraft which is observing Mars from space. It came into Mars’ orbit on February 19, 2002 and started its scientific observation of the red planet. The mission is part of NASA’s Mars exploration program whose aim is to find out whether Mars contained liquid water and if it harbored life sometime before. Just 1 single celled organism will tell us that Mars is indeed capable of supporting life.
- Look for rocks that is formed with the presence of water. We all know that some rocks can only form with the presence of water, just like the sedimentary rocks.
- Study the geography of Mars and look for possible water beds.
- Look for possible hydrothermal systems. Scientists are quite sure that there is water beneath the surface of Mars.
- THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System) – A highly advanced camera that not only takes pictures of the surface of Mars, it also detects heat enabling it identify possible hydrothermal systems beneath the surface of the red planet.
- Gamma Ray Spectrometer – Used to analyze the chemical composition and elemental abundance of the Martian surface and it can also detect water in subsurface depths. It is also used to study gamma ray bursts and determine how the depths of the polar caps varies over time.
- MARIE (Mars Radiation Environment Experiment) – Used to determine the levels of space radiation on the way to Mars and in the orbit of Mars. The information that MARIE is providing is highly essential for the safety of the astronauts in space. This is also being done in preparation for possible human explorations of Mars.
It was also during this mission that the process of “aerobreaking” was completely applied. Aerobreaking was tested on the Magellan mission but it had its glorious moment on the Mars Odyssey mission.
Aerobraking is a process of using a planets atmosphere to slow a vehicle down or an orbiter in this case. Remember that the Mars Odyssey will be arriving in Mars at a great speed and if it don’t get to slow down, it might just fly by Mars instead of going into Mars’ orbit. It will take a series of aerobreaking’s before the desired orbit can be achieved. This was a great idea thought about by scientists that enable space crafts to carry more equipments that fuel.
Here is a great video about aerobreaking as explained by a NASA scientist.
The Mars Odyssey mission is a continuing success, right now it is acting as a communications port between the rovers and the Earth and is continuing to map out the Martian surface for future landing sites. As far as the goals of the Mars exploration program is concerned, Mars Odyssey has been living up to expectations, even beyond expectation since the mission has been extended.
Even though the Odyssey is not capable of detecting life on Mars, it is well capable of determining whether the environment in Mars was or is conducive to life. The Oddysey was the first spacecraft that has the capability of detecting subsurface water in Mars.
The Oddysey discovered that the atmosphere in Mars is too thin and it is too cold to have liquid water in the surface. However, it also discovered that there is water trapped beneath the surface of Mars.
It was also the oddysey who discovered the chemical elements and minerals that make up Mars (Carbon, Silicon etc…) and continues to monitor how the geography of Mars is formed over time.
Lastly, and probably the most important, the Odyssey is determining the level of radiation present in Mars. That way we can be prepared whenever a human exploration takes place.