2001 Mars Odyssey is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the red planet. The opportunity to go to Mars comes around every 26 months, when the alignment of Earth and Mars in their orbits around the sun allows spacecraft to travel between the two planets with the least amount of energy.
2001 Mars Odyssey launched on April 7, 2001, and arrived at Mars on October 24, 2001, 0230 Universal Time (October 23, 7:30 pm PDT/ 10:30 EDT).
Odyssey's primary science mission took place February 2002 through August 2004, and the orbiter began its extended missions on August 24, 2004.
NASA's Odyssey to Mars
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. Evocative of one of his most celebrated works, the name speaks to our hopes for the future and of the fundamental human desire to explore the unknown despite great dangers, the risk of failure and the daunting, enormous depths of space.
2001 Mars Odyssey Results
For the first time, the mission globally mapped the amount and distribution of many chemical elements and minerals that make up the martian surface.
Maps of hydrogen distribution led scientists to discover vast amounts of water ice in the polar regions burried just beneath the surface.
Odyssey also recorded the radiation environment in low Mars orbit to determine the radiation-related risk to any future human explorers who may one day go to Mars. All of these objectives support the four science goals of the Mars Exploration Program.
2001 Mars Odyssey Instruments
The three primary instruments carried by 2001 Mars Odyssey are:
Providing Superlative Assistance to other Mars Missions
The Odyssey orbiter has also provided a communications relay for the Mars Exploration Rovers , "Spirit" and "Opportunity," transmitting over 95% of the data from the rovers to Earth. Odyssey will continue to support the rovers throughout its extended missions. It also supported communications with the Mars Phoenix Lander. Just as they did for the 2003 rovers, scientists and engineers will also use Odyssey images and data to identify potential landing sites for future Mars missions such as the Mars Science Laboratory rover "Curiosity."