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A NASA Mars spacecraft celebrates a major milestone today — a decade circling the Red Planet.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) arrived at the Red Planet on March 10, 2006 and has done yeoman's work in the decade since. To mark the occasion, NASA created this video celebrating the MRO's 10 years at Mars .
MRO images Mars in unprecedented detail, and its observations have helped researchers keep tabs on the dynamic planet. MRO is also responsible for a number of important discoveries over the years —including the recent determination that water flows seasonally on some parts of modern-day Mars.
"This mission has helped us appreciate how much Mars — a planet that has changed greatly over time — continues to change today," MRO project scientist Rich Zurek, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said in a statement.
To date, MRO has sent 264 terabits of scientific data back to Earth — more than all other interplanetary missions in history put together, NASA officials said. Some of the probe's observations help researchers evaluate possible landing sites for future robotic and human missions, and others aid route planning for NASA's two operational Mars rovers, Opportunity and Curiosity.
MRO also serves as a vital communications link between these two rovers and their handlers on Earth. (The agency's Mars Odyssey orbiter also provides this relay service.)
The $720 million MRO mission launched on Aug. 12, 2005, tasked with, among other things, studying Martian geology and climate and searching for evidence that Mars has ever hosted liquid water for long periods of time — long enough to potentially provide a habitat for life.