Mars Odyssey Mission

NASA launched the Mars Odyssey 2001 spacecraft to the Red Planet from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on April 7, 2001. The robot spacecraft, previously called the Mars Surveyor 2001 Orbiter, was designed to determine the composition of the planet's surface, to detect water and shallow buried ice, and to study the ionizing radiation environment in the vicinity of Mars. The spacecraft arrived at the planet on October 24, 2001, successfully entered orbit, and then performed a series of aerobrake maneuvers to trim itself into the polar orbit around Mars for scientific data collection. The scientific mission began in January 2002.

Mars Odyssey has three primary science instruments: the thermal emission imaging system (THEMIS), a gamma-ray spectrometer (GRS), and the Mars radiation environment experiment (MARIE). THEMIS examined the surface distribution of minerals on Mars, especially those that can form only in the presence of water. The GRS determined the presence of 20 chemical elements on the surface of Mars, including shallow, subsurface pockets of hydrogen that act as a proxy for determining the amount and distribution of possible water ice on the planet. Finally, MARIE analyzed the Martian radiation environment in a preliminary effort to determine the potential hazard to future human explorers. The spacecraft collected scientific data until the end of its primary scientific mission on August 24, 2004. From that point, it began to function as an orbiting communications relay. It is currently supporting information transfer between the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission and scientists on Earth.

NASA selected the somewhat unusual name Mars Odyssey 2001 for this important spacecraft as a tribute to the vision and spirit of space exploration that is embodied in the science-fact and science-fiction works of the famous British writer Sir Arthur C. Clarke.

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