Of all the hardware parts that NASA sent to Mars, we do not hear as much about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as we would like. It's an incredible machine that has dramatically outlived its original mission time span and continues to provide vital information about the Red Planet through its range of cameras and high-tech sensors.
The main mission of the spaceship was to take only two years, but it has already spent a whopping 13 years in orbit around Mars, and it looks like this impressive series will last into the future. In a recent blog post, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory shows that the MRO has just reached a truly incredible milestone: 60,000 voyages around Mars.
The data collected by the MRO has led to new insights into how the planet works, and during its time in orbit, three completely new missions have landed on the surface of Mars. NASA uses the orbiter to support these missions, making it the ultimate multitasker.
"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 Mars surface missions so they can send their images and discoveries back to Earth scientists."
The MRO HiRISE imaging system is probably the best-known tool available to him. HiRISE has cast beautiful glimpses of the planet's surface, revealing things about the planet's geography and weather that would otherwise have been unknown. New insights into the remaining water of Mars and the history of surface water on the planet have been part of the mission of the MRO from the beginning.
60,000 trips around one planet are quite a feat, but MRO is far from finished. Due to fuel consumption, NASA believes that the spacecraft will be operational well into the 2020s. If things go well, it could have enough propellant to get it into the 2030s.