March 2016 - In the Blink of the Eye: What 10 Years at Mars Can Tell Us About the Planet
In the Blink of the Eye: What 10 Years at Mars Can Tell Us About the Planet
March 24 & 25
Our eyes in the sky at Mars include the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which has been orbiting Mars for 10 years.
The orbiter has sent back thousands of high-resolution images and more data than all Mars missions combined and:
- Found the strongest evidence yet that liquid water flows intermittently on present-day Mars
- Found evidence of diverse watery environments on early Mars, some more habitable than others
- Caught avalanches and dust storms in action
- Seen seasonal changes and longer-term changes over the last decade
On Aug. 12, 2005, the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. Seven months later, the orbiter arrived at Mars. Thus began an incredible journey of exploration, guided by the Mars Exploration Program’s “follow-the-water” theme.
Originally slated for a two-year prime science mission followed by a two-year relay mission, MRO has logged more than a decade of science operations and support for surface missions. MRO has probed the planet’s atmosphere, surface and subsurface with unprecedented spatial resolution and coverage. Its seven science investigations and six instruments have returned more than 250 terabits of data, enabling numerous discoveries. Among them, MRO has found evidence for a variety of water-laden environments dating to early Mars, and enough carbon dioxide ice buried in the south polar cap to double the current atmosphere if it were released in gaseous form. The orbiter has revealed a planet with a surface that is active today, decorated by moving dunes and mysterious strips that appear to be brine flows.
At the same time, MRO has rendered invaluable service to landers and rovers at Mars. It not only delivered critical information for the selection of landing sites, but captured crucial data and historic images during the arrivals of the Phoenix lander and Mars Science Laboratory. Since then, MRO has frequently served as a relay for data and commands between those spacecraft and Earth. As NASA’s Mars Exploration Program looks to the future, MRO continues to characterize and certify new landing sites for both NASA and the European Space Agency, while preparing to cover critical events and landed operations for the InSight lander, Mars 2020 rover, and future missions.
Dr. Leslie Tamppari, MRO deputy project scientist