2001 Mars Odyssey is a robotic spacecraft orbiting the planet Mars.
The project was developed by NASA, and contracted out to Lockheed Martin, with an expected cost for the entire mission of US$297 million. Its mission is to use spectrometers and a thermal imager to detect evidence of past or present water and ice, as well as study the planet’s geology and radiation environment.
It is hoped that the data Odyssey obtains will help answer the question of whether life has ever existed on Mars and create a risk-assessment of the radiation future astronauts on Mars might experience. It also acts as a relay for communications between the Mars Exploration Rovers, Mars Science Laboratory, and the Phoenix lander to Earth. The mission was named as a tribute to Arthur C. Clarke, evoking the name of 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Odyssey was launched April 7, 2001 on a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, and reached Mars orbit on October 24, 2001, at 02:30 UTC (October 23, 19:30 PDT, 22:30 EDT). The spacecraft’s main engine fired in order to brake the spacecraft’s speed, which allowed it to be captured into orbit around Mars. Odyssey used a technique called “aerobraking” that gradually brought the spacecraft closer to Mars with each orbit. By using the atmosphere of Mars to slow down the spacecraft in its orbit, rather than firing its engine or thrusters, Odyssey was able to save more than 200 kilograms (440 lb) of propellant. Aerobraking ended in January, and Odyssey began its science mapping mission on February 19, 2002. It is currently in a polar orbit around Mars with an altitude of about 3,800 km or 2,400 miles.
On May 28, 2002 (sol 210), NASA reported that Odyssey’s GRS had detected large amounts of hydrogen, a sign that there must be ice lying within a meter of the planet’s surface. GRS is a collaboration between University of Arizona’s Lunar and Planetary Lab., the Los Alamos National Laboratory, and Russia’s Space Research Institute.