Ten years ago today, NASA began a 90 day mission with its Opportunity rover, a mission which never ended. Beyond all expectations, the little rover is still going.
On July 7th 2003, precisely 10 years ago, NASA launched the Opportunity rover on its way to Mars where it would conduct a 90 martian day mission taking rock and soil samples, before the harsh Martian landscape put the small solar driven robot out of action. However, after roughing it out on the red planet for a decade, Opportunity is still going strong, passing the expectations of everyone and becoming one of NASA’s biggest success stories in recent times.
It has been a tough journey for the rover. During its decade on Mars, mechanical troubles have caused NASA engineers plenty of headaches, and it was trapped in a sand dune for two months before it was finally wiggled free by some very patient NASA technicians. Opportunity’s sister rover, Spirit, hasn’t been as lucky. It became stuck and was abandoned by NASA a while back.
Opportunity has accomplished many scientific feats, including the finding of the first meteorite fragment to be discovered outside of Earth. It has also created a temperature map of the martian atmosphere, and just last month, it found a rock that proves Mars once had drinkable water; something which suggests there might once have been life on our neighboring planet.
So far it has driven about 23 miles across the surface of Mars, and while Opportunity won’t be stopping yet, all things come to an end eventually. If it doesn’t break or get stuck or even if funding isn’t eventually pulled for the program, chances are the solar panels will one day become too caked in martian dust for the rover to function properly any more.