The 2001 Mars Odyssey designed and built by Lockheed Martin Space Systems for NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was launched April 7, 2001. While in orbit, the spacecraft has collected data that has been used to analyze the global elemental composition of the planet, searched for evidence of ancient hot springs and mineral deposits, surveyed the radiation environment and provided a communications link with three landers; Spirit, Opportunity and Phoenix.
On Dec. 15, 2010, Odyssey became the longest working Mars spacecraft in history when it passed the record of 3,340 days set by the Mars Global Surveyor.
Odyssey successfully arrived in orbit around the red planet on Oct. 24, 2001. After an initial elliptical orbit, the flight team performed aerobraking maneuvers for several weeks to place the spacecraft in a lower, nearly circular orbit around the planet's poles averaging 250 miles above the surface.
The primary mission was two Martian years (46 Earth months) and concluded August 2004. Since then, the bonus years of extended missions have enabled many accomplishments that would not have been possible otherwise.
Odyssey made its most famous discovery during it first few months of science operations; detection of copious hydrogen just below the surface throughout the planet's high-latitude regions. Deduction that the hydrogen is in frozen water prompted NASA's Phoenix Mars Lander mission, which confirmed that fact in 2008.
Other major achievements of the Odyssey mission include:
- Highest-resolution map covering virtually the entire planet
- Nearly all the science data from NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers
- Spirit and Opportunity has reached Earth via Odyssey relay
- Odyssey became the middle link for continuous observation of Martian weather by Mars Global Surveyor, Odyssey, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
- Odyssey scientists have had the opportunity to monitor seasonal changes on Mars year-to-year, such as the cycle of carbon-dioxide freezing out of the atmosphere in polar regions during each hemisphere's winter
- Completed a radiation levels safety check to aid planning of future human missions
- Observations by Odyssey have contributed to selection and analysis of landing sites for four Mars surface missions
Odyssey is the second of three Mars orbiters designed, built and flown by Lockheed Martin for NASA and JPL. The first was Mars Global Surveyor which operated in orbit from Sept. 11, 1997, to Nov. 2, 2006. Following Odyssey was the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter which entered orbit on March 10, 2006 and is still in operations.