Washington, Dec 10 (ANI): By the middle of next week, NASA's Mars Odyssey orbiter, which entered orbit around Mars on Oct. 24, 2001, will have worked longer at Mars than any other spacecraft in history.
On Dec. 15, the 3,340th day since that arrival, it will pass the Martian career longevity record set by its predecessor, Mars Global Surveyor, which operated in orbit from Sept. 11, 1997, to Nov. 2, 2006.
Odyssey made its most famous discovery -evidence for copious water ice just below the dry surface of Mars - during its first few months, and it finished its radiation-safety check for future astronauts before the end of its prime mission in 2004. The bonus years of extended missions since then have enabled many accomplishments that would not have been possible otherwise.
"The extra years have allowed us to build up the highest-resolution maps covering virtually the entire planet," said Odyssey Project Scientist Jeffrey Plaut of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The maps are assemblages of images from the orbiter's Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) camera, provided and operated by Arizona State University, Tempe.
The orbiter's longevity has given Odyssey scientists the opportunity to monitor seasonal changes on Mars year-to-year, such as the cycle of carbon-dioxide freezing out of the atmosphere in polar regions during each hemisphere's winter.
"It is remarkable how consistent the patterns have been from year to year, and that's a comparison that wouldn't have been possible without our mission extensions," Plaut said.
To mark the approach to the Mars longevity record, the camera team and NASA prepared a slide show of remarkable images and has posted at http://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/odyssey/images/all-stars.html. (ANI)