NASA’s Opportunity Rover is already in its teenage year since it first landed on Mars. Opportunity made a historical landing on the red planet on Jan. 24, 2004. It touched down on Mars only a few weeks after its twin Spirit reached the other side of Mars.
The Opportunity Rover, also known as Mars Exploration Rover-B, landed inside a small crater at the Meridiana Planum (south of Mars’ equator) at 05:05 UTC on Jan. 24, 2004. The Boeing Delta II Heavy which carried the Opportunity Rover was launched on July 7, 2003 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station. It has been in active operation for already 13 years now. It has exceeded the originally planned mission of 90 sols or 92 Earth days.
As of 2010, Spirit has ceased communications after it got stuck in 2009, while the Opportunity still continues operations. NASA’s Opportunity Rover travels at a slow speed of only 2 miles per year and according to Zee News, the mobile already reached 43.79 kilometers distance as of Jan. 17, 2017, which is a record breaker for a surface rover travel distance.
NASA’s Opportunity Rover Mission
NASA’s Opportunity Rover was designed to study the mineralogical and geological features of Mars. The space agency aims to determine through the Opportunity if the red planet have had signs of water existence on its surface. As water is a known key ingredient for forms of life on Earth, scientists are keen to find out if Mars have once been conducive for living.
The Opportunity and Spirit Rovers then were created for that purpose of finding any signs of hydrologic activity on Mars. According to Space.com, Opportunity has been exploring the rim of Endeavour Crater since August 2011 and might head onto a water-carved gully which is about one kilometer south of the explorer's current location.
NASA’s Opportunity Rover Achievements
The rover found its first discovery only six weeks after its landing on Mars. While the rover was exploring rock outcrop dubbed Guadalupe, the Opportunity captured hints of water existence in Mars’ past. Opportunity’s microscopic imager recorded evidences of sulfates which, on Earth, form in a watery environment. After a couple of days. The Spirit was also able to capture similar footages which strengthened the theory that Mars once had rivers, lakes or seas in its past.
While the Opportunity was initially designed to find signs of water, the explorer, on some instances, found meteorites sitting on Mars’s barren plains. Opportunity then studied on the Block Island rock, which is an iron-nickel based meteorite, in 2009. The said rock was the largest meteorite so far that was discovered on Mars and scientists estimate it to weigh at least half a ton. Furthermore, Mars has placed its panoramic camera skyward in 2014 where it captured the comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring while it was passing near the Red Planet.
The Opportunity’s mission has been extended as it was funded through 2018. Meanwhile, NASA continues to develop more robotic geologists to work on Mars. As of late, the space agency is finishing its Mars 2020 rover. NASA’s Opportunity Rover, on the other hand, will either be operational or not by then depending on the explorer’s funding.