January 25, 2004. It was an ordinary day on Earth, but NASA officials were busy watching the Opportunity Rover descent through Mars’ atmosphere. The rover landed safe and sound and began what was planned to be its 90-day mission.
4,182 days later and Opportunity is still operating on the red planet’s surface.
Earlier this month, NASA released a Rover’s-Eye view of Opportunity’s marathon on Mars.
Opportunity is the current record holder of distance traveled by a rover on an extraterrestrial rover. It’s 26.2 miles (as of March 24, 2015) eclipses the 24 miles covered by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover from the 1970s.
NASA’s video highlights three major craters – Endurance, Victoria and Endeavour. You can see based off its the map on the right that Opportunity spent time at each one.
Opportunity visited the Endurance crater in May 2004 and stayed there until December 2004. As the rover topped the rim of the crater, it took an impressive panoramic image.
During its half-a-year pit stop, Opportunity confirmed there had been liquid water in this area at some point in the ancient past.
It took 21 months for Opportunity to reach Victoria crater. But, when it did – the view was even better than Endurance’s.
Just like Endurance, Opportunity found evidence of past water in the Victoria crater. The evidence of water supported theories that water was present across various parts of Mars’ landscape.
The trek into Victoria crater was a risky one, but Opportunity managed to get in and back out again. The rover reached Victoria Crater on September 26, 2006, and wouldn’t leave until August 29, 2008.
That’s where Opportunity is today. It’s sitting on the west rim of the massive Endeavour crater.
The size difference between the three craters is incredible. Endurance is just 130 meters in diameter. The Victoria crater’s diameter is 750 meters. The Endeavour crater dwarfs both of them with a diameter of 22 kilometers.
This month, Opportunity’s mission team plan to drive the rover to the western end of ‘Marathon Valley.’ This will be Opportunity’s home for the next several months. Opportunity’s mission team chose the spot for its sun-facing slope and possible science targets.
One of Opportunity’s upcoming targets is rocks near a band of reddish material at the northern edge of the ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ crater. It will use its alpha particle X-ray spectrometer to determine the chemical composition of the rocks.
Age is starting to creep up on Opportunity. Right now, the rover is operating in a mode that doesn’t use memory for overnight storage. But, the science will go on.
“Opportunity can continue to accomplish science goals in this mode,” said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “Each day we transmit data that we collect that day.”
NASA’s Opportunity rover far exceeded anyone’s wildest expectations. Who would have thought a rover designed for a 90-day mission would become the record holder for distance traveled on another planet or moon?
Image credits: NASA. Featured image: Sunset on Mars taken by Curiosity rover