Celebrating two decades of Mars exploration
Two decades ago, on 2 June 2003, European Space Agency’s Mars Express orbiter launched and began its long journey to Mars– Europe’s first ever mission to the Red Planet. Mars Express has now been in space for two decades with Norwegian technology onboard, despite a planned initial lifetime of just 687 Earth days.
Photo: Artist's impression of Mars Express. The background is based on an actual image of Mars taken by the spacecraft's high resolution stereo camera.
Credit: Spacecraft image credit: ESA/ATG medialab; Mars: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin, CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
Photo: Stereo-1 channel image of the moon Phobos. Phobos is the larger of Mars' two moons and is 27 by 22 by 18 kilometers in diameter. It orbits Mars three times a day, and is so close to the planet's surface that in some locations on Mars it cannot always be seen.
Credit: ESA/DLR/FU Berlin (G. Neukum), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO
The red planet in three dimensions
The MarsExpress has achieved its mission with more than 1.1 billion km travelled and over 24 000 Mars orbits, and it has revealed an incredible wealth of knowledge about Mars in its time, making it one of the most successful missions ever sent to the Red Planet.
Since beginning science operations 20 years ago, the orbiter has provided incredible views of the red planet in three dimensions. It has provided the most complete map of the chemical composition of the atmosphere, studied Mars’s innermost moon Phobos in unprecedented detail, and traced the history of water across the globe, demonstrating that Mars once harboured environmental conditions that may have been suitable for life.