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The Odyssey has just begun ...
by Michelle Mock

Mars Odyssey is the newest spacecraft gathering data from Mars orbit.  Its science instruments were turned on less than two weeks ago (19 February 2002).  The pictures and information received in the first few hours have amazed the scientists who are very excited.  As Dr. Steve Saunders said, "What we show today, although new and exciting, is only a glimpse of what is to come."

THEMIS is a Thermal Emission Imaging System consisting of two cameras.  One records visible light images, like the ones you are used to seeing of Mars.  The other is a thermal infrared camera capable of seeing during the night.  These amazing images surprised even Principal Investigator Dr. Phil Christensen who says, "We have created a scientific instrument that has a clarity and a resolution and a quality that is truly going to allow us to peer into the dark recesses of Mars with a clarity that even I was surprised at."

These images are from the THEMIS instrument and were all gathered during the first six hours of first day.  Click here for larger pictures and descriptions.

Koval'skiy Crater in Terra Sirenum
Terra Sirenum   Terra Sirenum
Channels   Hydaspsis Chaos
Image Credits: NASA/JPL/Arizona State University, NASA/JPL/Caltech

The GRS instrument consists of a gamma ray spectrometer and two neutron spectrometers.  The instrument is located at the end of a six meter (20-foot) arm, called a boom, so the signals from the spacecraft do not interfere with the data from Mars.  The boom has not yet been deployed, so the GRS scientists did not think they would have much to report so early.  The early data was much more than they expected and they are very, very happy!

Click here for larger pictures and descriptions from GRS.

Global gamma-ray map   South pole   South Pole image from HEND
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/University of Arizona/LANL

The third instrument, MARIE, stopped communicating with Earth after gathering a significant amount of data during the first four months or so of the mission.  Engineers do not know why MARIE stopped communicating, and will spend the next several weeks troubleshooting to see if they can wake her up.

Odyssey has been incredibly successful so far.  The launch was picture perfect,  Mars Orbit Insertion (MOI) and aerobraking were fantastic and two of the three suites of instruments have returned spectacular data already.  Everything is going as planned (or better) ... but success is not EASY!  There is so much involved in a mission and so very much that can go wrong.  Success is exciting, exhilarating and wonderful but that does not mean that every mission will be a success and when something goes wrong it is not necessarily a failure ... you regroup and try again.

Both Dr. Phil Christensen (TES/THEMIS) and Dr. William Boynton (GRS) had instruments on the ill-fated Mars Observer but they didn't give up.  Phil got to send TES on MGS and now he has THEMIS on Odyssey.  Bill had to wait 16 years but finally got a new opportunity.  MARIE is not currently communicating but the scientists and engineers have not given up hope.  They will be troubleshooting for the next few weeks and hopefully we'll hear from MARIE again.

Much more information, full-size images and links the latest images can be found at:

A full press conference, recorded 1 March 2002, can be seen at:

The PDF document at:
contains detailed information about the Odyssey mission, the spacecraft and the various instruments.

Click here to read Mars Story, a fantasy science story where Gaea and Califa will share what they learn about the Red Planet.  The story is fantasy but the science is real!

espa˝ol | franšais

- 1 March 2002


Last Updated:
8 January 2015

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