Mars: NASA Reflects On A Decade Of Research While Announcing Additions To Science Team

Anya Wassenberg

Mars was the focus of multiple NASA initiatives and news releases this week as the federal space agency celebrated a decade of startling discoveries and named the latest round of participating scientists in Mars research projects. The news comes just as NASA announced the postponement of the launch of InSight, its mission to explore the deep interior of the red planet.

Ten years ago, on March 10, 2006, NASA launched the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, or MRO, and the mission has delivered a motherlode of information and images that have astounded scientists and captured the public's imagination.

NASA has no less than seven missions currently active at Mars, but the MRO brings in more data than all the others put together. The MRO uses a highly developed telescopic camera resolution that can view areas on the surface of Mars that are smaller than the average driveway. An instrument called a spectrometer provides information about the the materials that make up the planet's surface. The information has allowed NASA scientists and other experts to develop an understanding of Mars as a planet that is both dynamic and diverse, including the possible presence of water.

The MRO's lifespan has surpassed original estimates by about seven years, with all of its science instruments still in working order. Along with its own data stream, MRO serves to coordinate the transmissions coming from robots on Mars' surface.

"The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter remains a powerful asset for studying the Red Planet, with its six instruments all continuing capably a decade after orbit insertion. All this and the valuable infrastructure support that it provides for other Mars missions, present and future, make MRO a keystone of the current Mars Exploration Program."

Along with the good news, another NASA Mars initiative couldn't get off the ground – literally. NASA's InSight -- or Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport -- mission was set to launch to Mars this past week. Technical problems involving one of the instruments on the spacecraft resulted in suspension of preparations for the launch to Mars, which has been reset to a window beginning May 5, 2018. NASA is planning a landing on Mars on November 26, 2018. The goal of InSight is to probe the red planet's interior to shed light on the processes at work in the evolution of rocky planets like Mars and Earth itself.

Other Mars oriented projects include the MAVEN mission, part of NASA's Mars Scout program which was launched in November of 2013 with the goal of studying Mars's atmosphere. NASA's #JourneyToMars plans continue to forge ahead.

[Image via NASA]