Of all the pieces of hardware that NASA sent to Mars, we don't hear about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter almost as much as we would like. It is an incredible machine that has dramatically exceeded its initial mission timeline and continues to transmit important information on the red planet thanks to its suite of high-tech cameras and sensors.
The primary mission of the space probe was to last only two years, but it has already spent 13 years in orbit around Mars, and seems to continue this impressive series in the future. In a new blog post, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory reveals that the MRO has just marked a truly incredible milestone: 60,000 trips to Mars.
The data collected by the MRO led to new insights into the functioning of the planet, and during its time in orbit, it saw a trio of completely new missions land on the Martian surface. NASA uses the orbiter to support these missions, making it the ultimate multitasking.
"The MRO has given scientists and the public a new perspective on Mars," said Dan Johnston of JPL in a statement. "We also supported NASA's fleet of surface missions on Mars, allowing them to send their images and discoveries to scientists on Earth."
The HiRISE imaging system from MRO is probably the most well-known tool it has at its disposal. HiRISE returned beautiful glimpses of the planet's surface and revealed things about the geography of the planet and the weather that otherwise would have remained unknown. New clues about the residual water of Mars and the history of surface waters on the planet have been part of the mission of the MRO since the beginning.
60,000 trips around a planet are a real undertaking, but the MRO is not even close to the end. Based on its fuel consumption, NASA believes that the spacecraft will remain up and running until 2020 and, if things go well, it could have enough propellant to carry it over the years.