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.