NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft, which launched in 2001, has officially become the Red Planet’s longest-staying guest.
It broke break the record Wednesday for longest-serving spacecraft at the Red Planet. Dec. 15 marks the 3,340th day since the satellite entered orbit around Mars, passing the record previously set by the Mars Global Surveyor, another orbiting satellite Odyssey’s longevity enables continued science, including the monitoring of seasonal changes on Mars from year to year and the most detailed maps ever made of most of the planet. In 2002, the spacecraft detected hydrogen just below the surface throughout Mars’ high-latitude regions. The deduction that the hydrogen is in frozen water prompted NASA’s Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which confirmed the theory in 2008. Odyssey also carried the first experiment sent to Mars specifically to prepare for human missions, and found radiation levels around the planet from solar flares and cosmic rays are two to three times higher than around Earth.
Odyssey also has served as a communication relay, handling most of the data sent home by Phoenix and NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity. Odyssey became the middle link for continuous observation of Martian weather by NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor and NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.