Diy Space Probe

Figure 2.10 The Mars Odyssey space probe.

7 April 2001 via a Delta 2 launch vehicle from Cape Canaveral, Florida, and arrived at Mars in October of that year.

The probe began orbiting the planet once every 25 hours, but this period was shortened to 2 hours as the craft's orbital path decreased bringing it closer and closer to Mars.

One of the aims of the Odyssey mission was to find out more about the geology of Mars. A gamma-ray spectrometer was used to map the surface for elements like hydrogen, silicon, iron, potassium, thorium and chlorine. These and other chemical elements are the building blocks of minerals, and minerals are the building blocks of rocks. Rocks and land formations tell scientists much about the past and present history of Mars. The spectrometer is also able to determine the thickness of the polar ice-cap.

Infrared cameras on Odyssey could distinguish between sandy areas and rocky areas beneath the surface.

The radiation experiment was designed to collect data on the radiation environment in space near Mars to help assess potential risks to any future human space travellers.

Genesis Mission

NASA launched the Genesis space probe in August 2001. The main objective of the mission was to collect samples of solar wind particles and return them to Earth for detailed analysis. Scientists wanted to measure oxygen and nitrogen isotopes in order to determine the role of each type of isotope in the formation of the solar system.

Genesis was the first return to Earth by a spacecraft containing samples since the US Apollo and Soviet Luna missions brought back moon rocks in the 1970s.

Mars Exploration Rovers

In 2003 NASA launched two Mars Exploration Rovers with the purpose of exploring the surface of Mars. The first probe was launched on 10 June 2003, the second on 7 July 2003; and both landed on Mars in January 2004. During the trip to Mars, the first probe made four trajectory correction manoeuvres and the second probe performed three. The two probes survived blasts of high-energy particles from some of the most intense solar flares on record. Each probe was used successfully to place a rover (mobile robot) on the Martian surface, but on opposite sides of the planet. One rover was called Opportunity, the other Spirit. Each rover was parachuted to the surface. Air bags were used to cushion the impact. The rovers were designed to look for geological clues about Mars, including whether parts of Mars formerly had environments wet enough to be hospitable to life. Each rover has the capability to explore its surroundings for interesting rocks and soils, to move to those targets, and to examine their composition and structure.

In late September 2004, the mission of both rovers was extended. The solar-powered machines were still in good health after two weeks of non-use while communications were unreliable because Mars was passing behind the Sun. As of 1 January 2008, the rovers are still operating and are still

Table 2.1 Significant missions to explore the solar system


Space probe

Launched by



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