The Opportunity Rover Keeps on Going
Opportunity rover on Mars–a composite of several images of the spacecraft taken by its camera. Courtesy NASA/Opportunity mission.
Last week marked Sol 5000 for the Opportunity Rover on Mars. It’s been rolling along ever since it landed there in January 2004, sending back images and data about the area around Endurance crater. Bear in mind that Opportunity (Mars Exploration Rover-B) was originally slated for a 90-day mission. But, like so many other NASA missions to other worlds, it has just gone on and on, like that famed Energizer Bunny. Now, it’s a “teenager” celebrating its 14th birthday on the dusty planet.
The rover has accomplished a lot in those 14 years, traveling more than 45 kilometers (28 miles) in all that time. It has survived dust storms, temperature shifts, and technical issues, all the while sending back a constant array of information. That’s a major accomplishment.
Planetary scientists know that the best chances for getting complete details about a world’s conditions come from doing long-period studies. Doing a flyby gets you a quick snapshot. Sending a probe that lands moves around and samples the conditions gets you “ground truth.” Of course, it’s ...