March 10, 2016 at 12:05 PM
On March 10, 2006, NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter set six of its engines to a powerful burn, allowing it to slow down enough for the gravitational pull of Mars to catch it and bring it into orbit. Ten years later, NASA is celebrating the MRO's continued success: The orbiter has lasted for five times longer than its planned primary scientific mission and counting, delivering unprecedented data on Mars and its history back to scientists on Earth.
"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," Project Scientist Rich Zurek of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory said in a statement.
Our Martian rovers might get most of the attention – after all, they're trawling around on the surface of Mars itself – but the MRO was responsible for last year's studies on the possibility of seasonal liquid water on the Red Planet.
And without the MRO, our landers wouldn't be nearly as successful: The detailed images from the orbiter, which has now circled the planet over 45,000 times, help scientists determine landing sites and new destinations for rovers. It's also used to relay signals from Curiosity and Opportunity back to Earth. It's capable of sending more data per second back to Earth than any of the other interplanetary missions combined, which allows it to send tons of incredibly high-resolution images home without breaking a sweat.
Watch the video above to get a glimpse of what MRO has accomplished so far. With all six of its instruments in perfect working order, there's no end in sight for the orbiter – and it's likely that the spacecraft will be around to help NASA select a landing spot for our first crewed mission to Mars.