Of all parts of hardware that NASA has sent to Mars, we do not hear about the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter almost as much as we would like. It's an incredible machine that has dramatically survived its original mission timeline and continues to convey important red planet information thanks to its series of cameras and high-tech sensors.
The spacecraft's primary mission was expected to be only two years, but it has already spent 13 years in orbit around Mars, and it seems to continue the impressive route well into the future. In a new blog post, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory reveals that MRO just nailed an incredible milestone: 60,000 trips around Mars.
Data collected by MRO has resulted in new insights into the planet's effects, and during its time in circulation it has seen a trio of brand new missions land on the Mars surface. NASA uses orbits to support these missions, making it the ultimate multitasker.
"MRO has given researchers and the public a new perspective on Mars," says JPL Dan Johnston in a statement. "We have also supported NASA's sleek Mars mission so they can send their pictures and discoveries back to Earth scientists."
The MRO's HiRISE imaging system is probably the best known tool it has at its disposal. HiRISE has returned beautiful looks on the planet's surface and revealed things about the planet's geography and weather that would otherwise have been unknown. New clues about Mars remaining water and the surface water's history on the planet have been part of MRO's mission since its inception.
60,000 trips around a planet are pretty good, but MRO is not even close to being finished. Based on its fuel consumption, NASA believes the spacecraft will continue to perform well in the 2020s, and if it does, it can get enough fuel left to pick it up in the 2030s.