The year 2001 has great significance for space exploration. After all, it was the book and movie, "2001: A Space Odyssey," that famously predicted that humans would have made great strides in exploring our solar system by the beginning of the 21st century. Mars would have long been achieved, and we would already be flying manned missions to Jupiter. Of course, manned missions to Mars remain a very long-range goal, and Jupiter can only be reached in movies.

Photo courtesy NASA
Click on image to see a video of the Mars Odyssey launch from a rocket-mounted camera.
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However, NASA is honoring the impact that Arthur C. Clarke's book and Stanley Kubrick's movie have had by naming its latest mission 2001: Mars Odyssey. The Mars Odyssey spacecraft has journeyed for more than six months before placing itself in orbit around the red planet in October, 2001. Its main objective is to scour the planet's surface to find out what the planet is made of and if there is any water or ice to be found there. There's still much debate about whether water exists or ever existed on Mars. This is an important question, because if water does exist, it means that Mars might harbor life. It would also be very useful to astronauts who may one day go to Mars.

Photo courtesy NASA
The Mars Odyssey Orbiter will circle Mars for two years, looking for water and analyzing the elements of the planet.

Mars continues to fascinate us, and NASA continues to move forward in its goal of sending a manned mission there within this century. In this edition of HowStuffWorks, we will look at this latest step toward putting a person on Mars. You will learn how the Mars Odyssey spacecraft is getting to Mars and how it will examine and determine the elemental composition of the planet.