This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission over the red planet.

This artist's concept shows NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter mission over the red planet.

NASA launched this multipurpose spacecraft to advance our understanding of Mars through detailed observation, to examine potential landing sites for future surface missions and to provide a high-data-rate communications relay for those missions.

The orbiter's shallow radar experiment, one of six science instruments on board, is designed to probe the internal structure of Mars' polar ice caps, as well as to gather information planet-wide about underground layers of ice, rock and, perhaps, liquid water, which might be accessible from the surface.

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