NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter hit a dizzying milestone: It completed 60,000 loops around the Red Planet. On average, MRO takes 112 minutes to circle Mars, whipping around at about 2 miles per second (3.4 kilometers per second).

Since entering orbit on March 10, 2006, the spacecraft has been collecting daily science about the planet’s surface and atmosphere, including detailed views with its High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment camera (HiRISE). HiRISE is powerful enough to see surface features the size of a dining room table from 186 miles (300 kilometers) above the surface.

Meanwhile, MRO is watching the daily weather and probing the subsurface for ice, providing data that can influence the designs of future missions that will take humans to Mars.

But MRO isn’t just sending back its own science; it serves in a network of relays that beam data back to Earth from NASA’s Mars rovers and landers. Later this month, MRO will hit another milestone: It will have relayed 1 terabit of data, largely from NASA’s Curiosity rover. If you’ve ever enjoyed one of Curiosity’s selfies or sprawling landscapes or wondered at its scientific discoveries, MRO probably helped make them possible.

MRO’s aerial perspective also provides scientists a complementary view of a dynamic planet. As seasons change, they can see avalanches and cloud patterns. HiRISE has imaged CO2 ice sublimatingmigrating sand dunes and meteorite strikes reshaping the landscape. With its Mars Climate Sounder instrument and its Mars Color Imager camera, MRO can also study atmospheric events like the massive global dust storm that proved fatal to NASA’s Opportunity rover in 2018.

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