Odyssey’s New Odometer

Odyssey’s New Odometer

An artist's rendition of 2001 Mars Odyssey as it enters orbit
An artist’s rendition of 2001 Mars Odyssey as it entered orbit. On Oct. 28, 2003, during a period of intense solar activity, the radiation-detecting instrument stopped working properly.
Credit: JPL

NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter begins working overtime today after completing a prime mission that discovered vast supplies of frozen water, ran a safety check for future astronauts, and mapped surface textures and minerals all over Mars, among other feats.

"Odyssey has accomplished all of its mission-success criteria," said Dr. Philip Varghese, project manager for Odyssey at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The spacecraft has been examining Mars in detail since February 2002, more than a full Mars year of about 23 Earth months. NASA has approved an extended mission through September 2006.

"This extension gives us another martian year to build on what we have already learned," said JPL’s Dr. Jeff Plaut, project scientist for Odyssey. "One goal is to look for climate change. During the prime mission we tracked dramatic seasonal changes, such as the comings and goings of polar ice, clouds and dust storms. Now, we have begun watching for year-to-year differences at the same time of year."

mars_columbia_hills
Lander pod for Opportunity in Eagle Crater. See Opportunity’s images and slideshow
Credit:NASA/JPL

The extension will also continue Odyssey’s support for other Mars missions. About 85 percent of images and other data from NASA’s twin Mars rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, have reached Earth via communications relay by Odyssey, which receives transmissions from both rovers every day.

The orbiter helped analyze potential landing sites for the rovers and is doing the same for NASA’s Phoenix mission, scheduled to land on Mars in 2008. Plans call for Odyssey to aid NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, due to reach Mars in March 2006, by monitoring atmospheric conditions during months when the newly arrived orbiter uses calculated dips into the atmosphere to alter its orbit into the desired shape.

Odyssey was launched April 7, 2001, and used the same "aerobraking" technique to shape its orbit during the initial months after it reached Mars on October 23, 2001. The spacecraft carries three research systems: a camera system made up of infrared and visible-light sensors; a spectrometer suite with a gamma ray spectrometer, a neutron spectrometer and a high-energy neutron detector; and a radiation environment detector.

Less than a month after the science mapping campaign began, the team announced a major discovery. The gamma ray and neutron instruments detected copious hydrogen just under Mars’ surface in the planet’s south polar region. Researchers interpret the hydrogen as frozen water — enough within about a meter (3 feet) of the surface, if the ice were melted, to fill Lake Michigan a couple times.

Mars 2001 Odyssey
Hydraotes Chaos (Released 18 August 2004)
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University

Here are a few of Odyssey’s other important accomplishments so far:

— As summer came to northern Mars and the north polar covering of frozen carbon dioxide shrank, Odyssey found abundant frozen water in the north, too.

— Infrared mapping shows that a mineral called olivine is widespread. This indicates the environment has been quite dry, because water exposure alters olivine into other minerals.

— Findings indicate the amount of frozen water in some relatively warm regions on Mars is too great to be in equilibrium with the atmosphere, suggesting that Mars may be going through a period of climate change. Features visible near small, young gullies in some Odyssey images may be slowly melting snowpacks left over from a martian ice age.

— The first experiment sent to Mars specifically in preparation for human missions found that radiation levels around Mars, from solar flares and cosmic rays, are two to three times higher than around Earth.

— Odyssey’s camera system has obtained the most detailed complete global maps of Mars ever, with daytime and nighttime infrared images at a resolution of 100 meters (328 feet).

"We’ve accomplished everything we set out to do, and more," said JPL’s Robert Mase, Odyssey mission manager. Although an unusually powerful solar flare in October 2003 knocked out the radiation environment instrument, Odyssey is otherwise in excellent health. The spacecraft has enough fuel onboard to keep operating through this decade and the next at current consumption rates. The mission extension, with a budget of $35 million, essentially doubles the science payoff from Odyssey for less than one-eighth of the mission’s original $297 million cost.

Mars 2001 Odyssey
Yardangs and Crosshatching (Released 20 July 2004) Investigating the change in wind regime as evidenced by the crosshatching can lead to insight into the history of this area.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University

The mission will continue to map the amount and distribution of chemical elements and minerals that make up the Martian surface. The spacecraft especially looks for hydrogen, most likely in the form of water ice, in the shallow subsurface of Mars. One of its three primary instruments is called THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System), for determining the distribution of minerals, particularly those that can only form in the presence of water. It also provides the communications relay for U.S. and international landers, including missions in NASA’s Mars Program, the Mars Exploration Rovers. The name "2001 Mars Odyssey" was selected as a tribute to the vision and spirit of space exploration as embodied in the works of renowned science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke.

 

 

 

 

 


Related Web Pages

Mars: Goldilocks’ Oasis?
Squyres, Martian Chronicles, Parts 1 * 2 * 3 * 4 * 5 * 6 * 7 * 8 * 9 * 10 * 11 * 12 * 13
Great Terraforming Debate: Part I
Great Terraforming Debate: Part II
Great Terraforming Debate: Part III
Great Terraforming Debate: Part IV
Great Terraforming Debate: Part V
Great Terraforming Debate: Part VI
Great Terraforming Debate: Part VII
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Malin Space Systems
Mars Global Surveyor
Arizona State THEMIS
Mars 2001 Odyssey