Prepare for your new weekly dose of history, as WDD recaps significant events that took place in the tech and engineering space.
No, this does not refer to some better-late-than-never sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film.
On April 7, 2001, NASA launched its 2001 Mars Odyssey spacecraft as part of its Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort to explore the Red Planet (with robots). Its mission: to detect water and shallow-buried ice, and to study the radiation environment.
(Fun fact: while the craft’s name is not a direct reference to Kubrick’s movie, it was intended to embody the vision and spirit of space exploration, as captured so imaginatively by best-selling science fiction writer, Arthur C. Clarke, who penned the original novel.)
The Odyssey (an ongoing mission) has outlived every other spacecraft sent to Mars—a significant undertaking given the fact that NASA had experienced back-to-back failures of two Mars missions in 1999.The spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral on April 7, arriving on Mars more than six months later on October 24. A three-month “aerobraking” phase followed, during which the craft utilized dips in Mars’ upper atmosphere to adjust the size and shape of the orbit in preparation for systematic mapping of the planet.
Odyssey’s contributions to NASA’s knowledge of the Red Planet have been indispensable to subsequent explorations—by robots and (one day) humans.
It yielded the most accurate Martian maps and has served as an important communications link between Mars and Earth for the Exploration Rovers and Phoenix Lander. It found evidence of water, mapping its abundance around the planet (the upper meter of Mars’ surface has enough water to fill Lake Michigan twice), and discovered the presence of hematite, a mineral that often forms in water. The Odyssey has also revealed some of Mars’ seasonal patterns, such as large dust storms.
The spacecraft’s three primary instruments include: a Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS) for determining the distribution of minerals; a Gamma Ray Spectrometer (GRS) for detecting the presence of 20 chemical elements on Mars’ surface; and a Mars Radiation Environment Experiment (MARIE) for studying the radiation environment.
Lockheed Martin Space Systems constructed the titanium, 725 kg spacecraft, collaborating with NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in mission operations.
Curious where the Odyssey is now? Visit the mission homepage for more information.
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