Clicking on the Web: Exploring Mars on NASA website

by Howard Lestrud 

The closest I may ever get to Mars is by buying a Mars chocolate candy bar.

Chocolate bars sold as Mars vary in different regions of the world.

The American version was discontinued in 2002 and was replaced with the slightly different Snickers Almond.

Now, that I’ve sweetened you up a bit, I will get to the context of this column, the exploration of the Red Planet Mars.

First things first, please bookmark a NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) site at

Exploration of Mars actually began in 1960 with the Soviet Union taking the lead.

The United States followed by starting exploration of Mars in 1964.

Forty-eight years later we are still exploring Mars and are receiving some unbelievable data from a camera located on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter.

I received a news release the other day from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. This laboratory manages Odyssey.

Read the complete release and find other links about Mars at

Let’s read:

Ten years ago, on Feb. 19, 2002, the Thermal Emission Imaging System (THEMIS), a multi-band camera on NASA’s Mars Odyssey orbiter, began scientific operations at the Red Planet.

Since then the camera has circled Mars nearly 45,000 times and taken more than half a million images at infrared and visible wavelengths.

“THEMIS has proven itself a workhorse,” said Philip Christensen of Arizona State University, Tempe, the camera’s principal investigator and designer.

“It’s especially gratifying to me to see the range of discoveries that have been made using this instrument.”

Highlights of science results by THEMIS over the past 10 years include:

— Confirming a mineral exposure selected as the landing site for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity

— Discovering carbon-dioxide gas jets at the south polar ice cap in spring

— Discovering chloride salt deposits across the planet

— Making the best global image map of Mars ever done

— Identifying safe landing sites landing sites for NASA’s Mars Phoenix lander by finding the locations with the fewest hazardous boulders

— Monitoring dust activity in the Martian atmosphere

— Discovering that a large crater, Aram Chaos, once contained a lake

— Discovering that Mars has more water-carved channels than previously thought

— Discovering dacite on Mars, a more evolved form of volcanic lava not previously known on the Red Planet

THEMIS combines a five-wavelength visual imaging system with a nine-wavelength infrared imaging system.

By comparing daytime and nighttime infrared images of an area, scientists can determine many of the physical properties of the rocks and soils on the ground.

Mars Odyssey has a two-hour orbit that is nearly “sun-synchronous,” meaning that Odyssey passes over the same part of Mars at roughly the same local time each day.

In September 2008 its orbit was shifted toward an earlier time of day, which enhanced THEMIS’ mineralogical detection capability.

Says Christensen, “Both Odyssey and THEMIS are in excellent health and we look forward to years more science with them.”

NASA launched the Mars Odyssey spacecraft April 7, 2001.

Odyssey arrived at Mars Oct. 24, 2001.

After arrival the spacecraft spent several months in a technique called aerobraking, which involved dipping into the Martian atmosphere to adjust its orbit.

In February 2002, science operations began.

In another news release, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory announced a proposed Discovery mission concept to investigate the formation and evolution of terrestrial planets by studying the deep interior of Mars. It’s name is InSight.

InSight stands for Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport and is a partnership involving JPL, Lockheed Martin Space Systems, the French Space Agency (CNES), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and other NASA centers.

InSight is one of three missions vying to be selected for flight in the Discovery Program, a series of NASA missions to understand the solar system by exploring planets, moons, and small bodies such as comets and asteroids.

All three mission teams are required to submit concept study reports to NASA on March 19.

Let’s go back to the NASA Mars site at

At this website, connect to these navigational bars:


PROGRAM AND MISSIONS: Overview, Science, Technology, Missions, People.

ALL ABOUT MARS: Extreme Planet, Pop Culture Mars, Mars in the Night Sky

NEWS: What’s New. Newsroom

MULTIMEDIA: Images, Video Archive

PARTICIPATE: Mars for Kids, Mars for Students, Mars for Educators, Be a Martian, Ask Dr. C


Go to these informational links:

• Mars Odyssey,

• Mars Exploration Rovers,

• Mars Express,

• Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter,

• Mars Science Laboratory,

• All Missions,

A special kids site about exploring Mars can be found at  

Will there ever be life on Mars? This question can be answered with an almost certain yes.

Editor’s note: Howard Lestrud is ECM online managing editor.