It’s August 12, 2005, and NASA has just launched its unmanned Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter spacecraft. However, it will be November 2006 before the ship is in the appropriate orbit to start making scientific observations and taking photographs. And when these high-resolution images finally arrive, they offer astonishing views of Mars as it has never before been seen.
But before we get on to the details about Orbiter and the incredible images that it has taken, let’s get to know Mars a little better. Often referred to as the ‘Red Planet,’ because it has a reddish hue when observed in the night sky, Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun – with Earth being the third.
Additionally, Mars is just over half the Earth’s size, and it has only about 38 percent of the surface gravity we’re used to on our planet. There is water on Mars, too, but because of the planet’s low atmospheric pressure – below 1 percent of Earth’s – liquid H2O is extremely rare and is only found fleetingly and at the lowest altitudes.