Ten Years Later, NASA's 'Opportunity' Rover Still Rolling
This morning, we here at BoldRide would like to celebrate a birthday. No– it’s not a member of our writing staff, or someone of note in the automotive world. But the subject in question has six wheels, is solar powered and has traveled farther than any other vehicle on its current planet of residence. Of course, we're taking about the Mars Opportunity Rover, which touched down on Mars ten years ago today. You could argue that Opportunity came to be in a lab on earth, but did not arrive on its present habitat until January 24, 2004, when it landed 16 miles away from the intended drop zone. Scientists were actually very excited about the accidental downwind landing site, as it was in a crater, which provided them yet another opportunity (see what I did there), to research the Red Planet.
Opportunity spent its first year analyzing what came to be known as Eagle Crater, and traveling to Endurance Crater analyzing soil. The following year, it went to investigate its own heat shield and found a rock that turned out to be a meteorite– the first one found by humans on a planet other than Earth.
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Opportunity has traveled farther than any other vehicle on Mars. In 1973, Russia placed a rover named Lunohkod 2 on the Moon that traveled 37km. The Opportunity Mars Rover clocked 35.76km the last time we checked. That was well beyond the 0.01km traveled by the Sojourner rover, which landed on Mars in 1997 and only operated for 83 days. A Rover named Spirit landed on Mars in 2004 and went offline in 2010, traveling 7.7km. The Mars Rover Curiosity landed in 2012 and is much larger than Opportunity. As of May 16, 2013 is had traveled less than than a kilometer, but it is just getting started.
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Ten years on, Opportunity continues to make news. On January 17, a rock had “mysteriously” moved or disappeared. Theories of little green men flew around, but several much less dramatic theories were offered. On Thursday, Opportunity discovered rocks that were older than any others found in previous missions, and show signs favorable to microbial life.
Has it found life on Mars? No, but ten years in, and Opportunity continues to make headlines. Enjoy your tenth birthday, our little rolling friend. Try not to have too much fun out in one of the loneliest places in the galaxy!
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