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2001 Mars Odyssey

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2001 Mars Odyssey

NASA's latest mission to Mars, an orbiter scheduled for launch on April 7th, will seek out underground water-ice and explore space weather around the Red Planet.

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Marshall Space Flight Center

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March 19, 2001 -- When NASA's 2001 Mars Odyssey launches in April to explore the fourth planet from the Sun, it will carry a suite of scientific instruments designed to tell us what makes up the Martian surface, and provide vital information about potential radiation hazards for future human explorers.

"The launch of 2001 Mars Odyssey represents a milestone in our exploration of Mars -- the first launch in our restructured Mars Exploration Program we announced last October," said Ed Weiler, Associate Administrator for Space Science at NASA Headquarters. "Mars continues to surprise us at every turn. We expect Odyssey to remove some of the uncertainties and help us plan where we must go with future missions."

Right: An artists concept of the 2001 Mars Odyssey Mission. Credit: NASA/JPL [more]

Set for launch April 7 from Cape Canaveral, Odyssey is NASA's first mission to Mars since the loss of two spacecraft in 1999. Other than our own Moon, Mars has attracted more spacecraft exploration attempts than any other object in the solar system, and no other planet has proved as daunting to success. Of the 30 missions sent to Mars by three countries over 40 years, fewer than one-third have been successful.

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The Odyssey team conducted vigorous reviews and incorporated "lessons learned" in the mission plan. "The project team has looked at the people, processes, and design to understand and reduce our mission risk," said George Pace, 2001 Mars Odyssey project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). "We haven't been satisfied with just fixing the problems from the previous missions. We've been trying to anticipate and prevent other things that could jeopardize the success of this mission."

Odyssey is part of NASA's Mars Exploration Program, a long-term robotic exploration initiative launched in 1996 with Mars Pathfinder and Mars Global Surveyor. "Odyssey will help identify and ultimately target those places on Mars where future rovers and landers must visit to unravel the mysteries of the red planet," said Jim Garvin, lead scientist for NASA's Mars Exploration Program.

NASA's latest explorer carries three scientific instruments to map the chemical and mineralogical makeup of Mars: a thermal-emission imaging system (THEMIS), a gamma ray spectrometer (GRS) and a Martian radiation environment experiment (MARIE).

THEMIS will map the planet with high-resolution thermal images and give scientists an increased level of detail to help them understand how the mineralogy of the planet relates to the landforms they see. The part of Odyssey's imaging system that takes pictures in visible light will see objects with a clarity that fills the gaps between the Viking orbiter cameras of the 1970s and today's high-resolution images from Mars Global Surveyor.

Above: THEMIS's infrared capabilities will significantly improve the data from TES, a similar instrument on Mars Global Surveyor. This image shows how Arizona's Verde Valley would appear to both instruments. [more information]

Like a virtual shovel digging into the surface, Odyssey's gamma ray spectrometer (GRS) will allow scientists to peer into the upper few centimeters of Mars's crust to measure many elements, including the amount of hydrogen that exists. Because hydrogen is most likely present in the form of water-ice, the spectrometer will be able to measure permanent ground ice and how that changes with the seasons.

"For the first time at Mars, we will have a spacecraft that is equipped to find evidence for present near-surface water and to map mineral deposits from past water activity," said Steve Saunders, 2001 Mars Odyssey project scientist at JPL. "Despite the wealth of information from previous missions, exactly what Mars is made of is not fully known, so this mission will give us a basic understanding about the chemistry and mineralogy of the surface."

The Martian radiation environment experiment, MARIE, will be the first to examine radiation levels at Mars as they relate to the potential hazards faced by future astronauts. The experiment will take data on the way to Mars and in orbit around the red planet.

Right: Since space radiation presents an extreme hazard to crews of interplanetary missions, MARIE will attempt to predict anticipated radiation doses that would be experienced by future astronauts and help determine possible effects of Martian radiation on human beings. [more information]

After completing its primary mission, the Odyssey orbiter will provide a communications relay for future American and international landers, including NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers, scheduled for launch in 2003.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the 2001 Mars Odyssey mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C. Principal investigators at Arizona State University, the University of Arizona and NASA's Johnson Space Center will operate the science instruments. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver, Colo., is the prime contractor for the project, and developed and built the orbiter. Mission operations will be conducted jointly from JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, and Lockheed Martin.

Web Links

2001 Mars Odyssey -- mission home page at JPL.

GRS: The Gamma Ray Spectrometer -- The GRS will be able to measure the abundance and distribution of about 20 primary elements of the periodic table. Knowing what elements are at or near the surface will give detailed information about how Mars has changed over time.

Right: Learn more about gamma-rays leaking from of the surface of Mars at this web site from JPL.

MARIE: The Mars Radiation Experiment -- Led by NASA's Johnson Space Center, this science investigation is designed to characterize aspects of the radiation environment both on the way to Mars and in the Martian orbit.

THEMIS: The Thermal Emission Imaging System -- By looking at the visible and infrared parts of the spectrum, THEMIS will determine the distribution of minerals on the surface of Mars and help understand how the mineralogy of the planet relates to the landforms.


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