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Mars Odyssey Orbiter

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This topic of “Mars Odyssey Orbiter” is important from the perspective of the UPSC IAS Examination, which falls under General Studies Portion.


The Mars Odyssey Orbiter, launched on April 7, 2001, and arriving at Mars on October 24, 2001, is NASA’s longest-lasting spacecraft at Mars. Its primary mission, which lasted from February 2002 to August 2004, was focused on creating the first global map of Martian chemical elements and minerals, and it continues to operate in an extended mission capacity.


  • THEMIS (Thermal Emission Imaging System): This instrument is essential for determining the distribution of minerals, especially those that form in the presence of water.
  • GRS (Gamma Ray Spectrometer): It helps in identifying 20 chemical elements on Mars’ surface, including hydrogen, which is indicative of water ice.
  • MARIE (Mars Radiation Environment Experiment): This experiment studies the radiation environment above Mars.

Communications Relay

The Odyssey Orbiter also serves as a communications relay for various Mars rovers and landers, including the Mars Exploration Rovers “Spirit” and “Opportunity,” the Mars Phoenix lander, and the Mars Science Laboratory’s Curiosity rover. This capability is crucial for selecting potential landing sites and transmitting data from the Martian surface.

Recent News (November 2023)

In a significant achievement, the Odyssey’s THEMIS camera captured a stunning view of the Mars horizon, an operation that took three months to plan. This view, from about 250 miles above the Martian surface, is akin to the view from the International Space Station of Earth. Captured on May 9, 2023, the image is a false color composite, highlighting water-ice clouds and dust in the Martian atmosphere.

THEMIS Operations

Arizona State University (ASU) leads the operations for Odyssey’s THEMIS camera, which has provided a new perspective for Mars scientists, similar to astronauts’ experiences when viewing Earth’s curvature from the ISS.

Achievements and Contributions

Over two decades, the Mars Odyssey Orbiter has made significant contributions to our understanding of Mars:

Mapping Martian Ice

  • Odyssey’s data has been pivotal in locating water ice on Mars, a crucial resource for future human exploration and understanding the Martian water cycle.

Understanding Mars’ Composition

  • The orbiter’s THEMIS camera has produced global maps of Mars, identifying various physical materials like rock, sand, and dust, thereby contributing to a deeper understanding of the planet’s history and surface composition.

Ensuring Safer Landings

  • Odyssey has sent back more than 1 million images, aiding in identifying hazards and resources on Mars. This data has been instrumental in ensuring safer landings for missions like the Perseverance rover.

Communications Relay Role

  • The orbiter has been key in relaying data between Mars rovers/landers and Earth. It has supported over 18,000 relay sessions, proving vital for the success of numerous missions.

Study of Martian Moons

  • The Odyssey has begun using its THEMIS camera to study Mars’ moons, Phobos and Deimos, providing insights into their composition and history. This data will be crucial for future missions aimed at these moons.


The Mars Odyssey Orbiter, a testament to human ingenuity and the quest for knowledge, continues to expand our understanding of Mars, from its surface composition and water ice deposits to the mysteries of its moons. As it enters its 22nd year at the Red Planet, its ongoing mission remains a cornerstone of Mars exploration, providing vital data that will shape future missions and our understanding of our celestial neighbor.

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