Of all the hardware that NASA sent to Mars, we didn't hear as much as the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter as we wanted. This is an amazing machine that dramatically surpasses the timeline of its initial mission and continues to convey important information about the Red Planet thanks to a series of high-tech cameras and sensors.
The spacecraft's main mission is expected to last only two years, but it has already lost 13 years in orbit around Mars, and that will likely continue into the future. In a new blog post, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory revealed that the MRO had just nailed a remarkable milestone: 60,000 trips around Mars.
Data collected by MRO has resulted in new insights into how the planet works, and as long as its time in orbit, it has seen a trio of completely new mission lands on the surface of Mars. NASA uses orbiters to provide support for the mission, making it the main multitasker.
"MRO has given scientists and society a new perspective on Mars," Dan Johnston of JPL said in a statement. "We also support a fleet of NASA Mars surface missions, enabling them to send their images and discoveries back to scientists on Earth."
The HiRISE MRO imaging system is probably the most famous tool it has. HiRISE has sent back beautiful landscapes to the planet's surface and revealed things about the planet's geography and weather which, if unknown, remain unknown. The new clue about Mars's remaining water and the history of surface water on the planet has been part of the MRO mission since its inception.
60,000 trips around a planet are pretty good, but the MRO isn't even nearing completion. Based on its fuel use, NASA believes the spacecraft will remain up and running well into the 2020s, and if all goes well, the remaining propellant will be enough to bring it into the 2030s.