On June 23, NASA’s Mars Odyssey spacecraft will mark its 60,000th orbit since its Martian landing in 2001.
Jim Green, director of Planetary Science at NASA’s, the Odyssey’s 600th orbit is just one of the many achievements of the spacecraft named after Arthur C. Clarke’ bestselling novel: “2001: A Space Odyssey”. Green adds that the space craft is indispensable to NASA’s Journey to Mars program, “helping to lay a foundation for the first humans to Mars in the 2030s.”
Project manager David Lehman likewise comments: “The Mars Odyssey is in good health, with all subsystems functional and with enough propellant for about 10 more years.” This, despite its 14 years in orbit.
The Odyssey holds the record of being the only spacecraft that has traveled about 888 million miles (1.43 billion kilometers) in addition to the 286 million miles (460 million kilometers) that it journeyed from the Earth to the Red Planet.
Certain adjustments are made to the Odyssey’s usual route, making it fly into an orbit above Martian terrain that is lit by early-morning sunlight rather than afternoon light. In its current orbit, the spacecraft always flies near each pole, along what is called the terminator, a “ moving line” (known as such for its varying “time-dependent” positions depending on the day and year) that cuts through the planet’s surface at sunrise and sunset, creating areas where there is “day” and “night”.
The Mars Odyssey was launched on Oct. 23, 2001. It holds the record as the longest-operating spacecraft ever sent to Mars since December 15, 2010.