NASA spacecraft completes 60,000th orbit around Mars

On June 23, NASA's Mars Odyssey spacecraft reaches a major milestone as it completes its 60,000th orbit since arriving at Mars in 2001. Happy 60,000th birthday, Odyssey!

The spacecraft, named after Arthur C. Clarke​'s bestselling novel "2001: A Space Odyssey," launched on April 7, 2001 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida. It began orbiting mars on October 23, 2001. On December 15, 2010, it became the longest operating spacecraft ever launched to Mars. Five years later, the it maintains a firm grasp on the record.

Odyssey helps relay communications for NASA's Mars rovers. NASA director of Planetary Science Jim Green said:

"This orbital milestone is an opportunity to celebrate Odyssey's many achievements. Odyssey will continue to help lay a foundation for the first humans to Mars in the 2030s through NASA's Journey to Mars initiative."

Did you catch that? Thanks to Odyssey, humans might be going to mars in another 15 years! Better start searching for a quality winter coat. We hear it's pretty cold over there.

In all seriousness, the spacecraft has lent a hand in many achievements during its long orbit. It completed the highest-resolution global map of Mars. It also helps people observe seasonal changes and monitor radiation in the environment around Mars, which helps them prepare for when humans walk the planet, so to speak.

Adjustments will continue to be made to Odyssey so that it monitors what happens in the Martian terrain in the morning. The adjustment plan began in 2012 and will be completed in November. Odyssey project scientist at Jet Propulsion Laboratory Jeffrey Plaut said:

"Upcoming observations will focus on what is happening in the Martian atmosphere in the morning, such as clouds, hazes and fogs, and on frosts on the surface that burn off by later in the day."

In the future, Odyssey will relay information for NASA and European Space Agency landers who will arrive on Mars in 2016.

Watch this video to learn NASA's game plan for sending humans to Mars in 2030:

NASA Announces Manned Mars Mission Gameplan

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