Mars Odyssey Mission Contributions to
Mars Exploration Program Science Goals

The 2001 Mars Odyssey science investigations are designed to support the Mars Exploration Program's overall science strategy of "Following the Water." The four science goals that support this strategy for discovery are:

This image shows a white, frothy stream flowing down a canyon between tall, red, volcanic cliffs.
NASA's strategy for scientific investigations on Mars is to "follow the water." Without water now or in the past, life as we know it could not exist.
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Goal 1: Determine whether life ever arose on Mars

While Odyssey does not carry instruments for detecting life on Mars, data from the mission helps us understand whether the environment of Mars was-or is--conducive to life. One of the fundamental requirements for life as we know it is the presence of liquid water. For the first time at Mars, a spacecraft was equipped to find evidence of present near-surface water and mapped mineral deposits from past water activity.

[more on Goal 1 for the entire Mars Exploration Program]

This image shows layered, red cliffs rising up from a flat, brown surface. The cliff surface slants from right to left, with the nearest cliffs on the right-hand side of the image and those farther away toward the left. Pinkish-tan clouds hover above the crests of the cliffs.
Scientists hope to determine if environmental conditions on Mars were ever capable of supporting microbial life. An example might be layers of rock indicating the presence of water, as portrayed in this artist's concept.
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Goal 2: Characterize the climate of Mars

Mars today is far too cold with an atmosphere that is far too thin to support liquid water on the surface. However, Odyssey discovered that much of the water on Mars is trapped under the surface as ice. Odyssey allowed scientists to measure the amount of permanent ground ice and how it changes with the seasons. In addition, Odyssey's studies of the geologic landforms and minerals-especially those that formed in the presence of water-- help us understand the role of water in the evolution of the martian climate since the planet first formed some 4.5 billion years ago.

[more on Goal 2 for the entire Mars Exploration Program]

This image shows a round crater exposing horizontal layers in its walls. Around it is an undulating brown surface. In both the foreground, in the lower right corner of the image, and in the backround, forming the horizon, are cliffs exposing horizontal layers of rock. The sky is a typical shade of martian peachy pink.
Layers of rock in craters and mountains, as shown in this artist's concept, contain a record of the geologic past on Mars.
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Goal 3: Characterize the geology of Mars

Mars Odyssey determined the chemical elements (e.g., carbon, silicon, iron, etc.) and minerals that make up the planet Mars, and continues to help explain how the planet's landforms developed over time. The chemical elements are the building blocks of minerals, minerals are the building blocks of rocks, and all of these relate to the structure and landforms of the martian surface. This understanding in turn provides clues to the geological and climatic history of Mars and the potential for finding past or present life.

[more on Goal 3 for the entire Mars Exploration Program]

This image shows a backward-looking view of an astronaut in a white spacesuit hiking over reddish sand and rocks on Mars. A gray plume of smoke rises from a fumarole behind the astronaut.
Mars Science Laboratory will help pave the way for potential human exploration of Mars, as depicted in this artist's concept.
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Goal 4: Prepare for human exploration

The Mars Radiation Environment Experiment gave us a first look at the radiation levels at Mars as they relate to the potential hazards faced by possible future astronaut crews. The experiment took data on the way to Mars and in orbit, so that future mission designers will know better how to outfit human explorers for their journey to the red planet.

[more on Goal 4 for the entire Mars Exploration Program]