Space

Opportunity rover notches up 5,000 days on Mars and counting

Opportunity rover notches up 5...
The Opportunity rover has spent 5,000 Martian days on the Red Planet
The Opportunity rover has spent 5,000 Martian days on the Red Planet
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NavCam shot of Endeavour crater
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NavCam shot of Endeavour crater
Landing stage that carried Opportunity to the surface of Mars
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Landing stage that carried Opportunity to the surface of Mars
Infographic comparing the mileage of Opportunity compared to other space rovers
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Infographic comparing the mileage of Opportunity compared to other space rovers
Panorama of Fram crater
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Panorama of Fram crater
Opportunity examining Heat Shield Rock
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Opportunity examining Heat Shield Rock
Opportunity before being stowed away for launch
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Opportunity before being stowed away for launch
Opportunity taking a self-portrait showing dust sliding off its solar panels while climbing a steep grade
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Opportunity taking a self-portrait showing dust sliding off its solar panels while climbing a steep grade
Opportunity lifting off in 2003
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Opportunity lifting off in 2003
Geological map of Opportunity's operating area
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Geological map of Opportunity's operating area
Map of Opportunity's landing site
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Map of Opportunity's landing site
Naturaliste crater panorama
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Naturaliste crater panorama
Opportunity lander stage as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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Opportunity lander stage as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Opportunity landing site showing the discarded heat shield and a bounce crater caused by the impact of the lander
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Opportunity landing site showing the discarded heat shield and a bounce crater caused by the impact of the lander
Simulated view of Opportunity on Mars
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Simulated view of Opportunity on Mars
Opportunity lander back shell and parachute seen from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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Opportunity lander back shell and parachute seen from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Opportunity as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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Opportunity as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Opportunity landing site as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
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Opportunity landing site as seen by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter
Heat Shield Rock, which was first thought to be a fragment of Opportunity's heat shied, but proved to be the first meteorite ever found on Mars
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Heat Shield Rock, which was first thought to be a fragment of Opportunity's heat shied, but proved to be the first meteorite ever found on Mars
Panoramic view of Martian rock outcropping
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Panoramic view of Martian rock outcropping
Solander Point
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Solander Point
Panorama of Endeavour crater
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Panorama of Endeavour crater
Rim of Perseverance Valley
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Rim of Perseverance Valley
Enhanced image showing Opportunity's tracks
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Enhanced image showing Opportunity's tracks
Panorama of Perseverance Valley
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Panorama of Perseverance Valley
Features named after Lindbergh's first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927
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Features named after Lindbergh's first solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927
A comet seen by Opportunity
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A comet seen by Opportunity
Before and after images showing how Martian winds blew accumulated dust off Opportunity's solar panels
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Before and after images showing how Martian winds blew accumulated dust off Opportunity's solar panels
Opportunity examining Athens Rock
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Opportunity examining Athens Rock
Endeavour Crater as seen by Opportunity on reaching its 25-mi milestone
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Endeavour Crater as seen by Opportunity on reaching its 25-mi milestone
Studying a rock outcropping at Endeavour Crater
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Studying a rock outcropping at Endeavour Crater
Marathon Valley
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Marathon Valley
Infographic on Opportunity's reaching its "Marathon" milestone
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Infographic on Opportunity's reaching its "Marathon" milestone
Marathon Valley as seen from Opportunity's NavCam
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Marathon Valley as seen from Opportunity's NavCam
Panorama of Cape Tribulation
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Panorama of Cape Tribulation
Opportunity looking south
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Opportunity looking south
Opportunity looks back toward part of the west rim of Endeavour Crater
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Opportunity looks back toward part of the west rim of Endeavour Crater
Opportunity path to Endeavour Crater
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Opportunity path to Endeavour Crater
Wdowiak Ridge
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Wdowiak Ridge
Cape Tribulation
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Cape Tribulation
False color image of "Spirit of St Louis" Crater
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False color image of "Spirit of St Louis" Crater
Opportunity photographing its own wheel
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Opportunity photographing its own wheel
False color image of rock outcropping to enhance details
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False color image of rock outcropping to enhance details
Opportunity's shadow
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Opportunity's shadow
Opportunity self-portrait
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Opportunity self-portrait
Murray Ridge
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Murray Ridge
Pilinger Point
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Pilinger Point
"Lunokhod 2" Crater
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"Lunokhod 2" Crater
Close-up view of a target rock called "Last Chance" acquired by the microscopic imager on Opportunity
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Close-up view of a target rock called "Last Chance" acquired by the microscopic imager on Opportunity
The Opportunity rover has spent 5,000 Martian days on the Red Planet
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The Opportunity rover has spent 5,000 Martian days on the Red Planet
Fish bowl image of Opportunity showing its tracks
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Fish bowl image of Opportunity showing its tracks
Opportunity looks back on its own path across across the Martian plains
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Opportunity looks back on its own path across across the Martian plains
Montage of images from a 2010 exercise to free Opportunity from sand
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Montage of images from a 2010 exercise to free Opportunity from sand
Gagarin Rock showing effect of Opportunity's abrasion tool
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Gagarin Rock showing effect of Opportunity's abrasion tool
Panorama of Endeavour Crater
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Panorama of Endeavour Crater
View of fill width of Endeavour Crater
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View of fill width of Endeavour Crater
Tisdale 2 visited on Sol 2,690
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Tisdale 2 visited on Sol 2,690
This piece of metal with the American flag on it on Opportunity's sister rover, Spirit (MER-A), is made of aluminum recovered from the site of the World Trade Center towers
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This piece of metal with the American flag on it on Opportunity's sister rover, Spirit (MER-A), is made of aluminum recovered from the site of the World Trade Center towers
Memorial image taken on September 11, 2011
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Memorial image taken on September 11, 2011
Clockwise from the bottom, Sojourner, Opportunity, and Curiosity
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Clockwise from the bottom, Sojourner, Opportunity, and Curiosity
Greely Haven
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Greely Haven
Opportunity covered in dust, cutting down its power supply from the sun
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Opportunity covered in dust, cutting down its power supply from the sun
Traverse map showing 19 weeks of travel
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Traverse map showing 19 weeks of travel
Opportunity photographs itself in late afternoon
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Opportunity photographs itself in late afternoon
Opportunity's shadow and Endeavour Crater
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Opportunity's shadow and Endeavour Crater
Wind tunnel parachute test for the Opportunity mission
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Wind tunnel parachute test for the Opportunity mission
Image from landing platform taken shortly after touchdown and deployment
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Image from landing platform taken shortly after touchdown and deployment
Trench dug by Opportunity next to its lander
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Trench dug by Opportunity next to its lander
Rock Spire at "Spirit of St Louis" Crater
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Rock Spire at "Spirit of St Louis" Crater
Stereo image of "Spirit of St Louis" Crater
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Stereo image of "Spirit of St Louis" Crater
Enhanced image of Hinner's Point
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Enhanced image of Hinner's Point
Stereo image of Hinner's Point
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Stereo image of Hinner's Point
Panorama of Wharton Ridge
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Panorama of Wharton Ridge
Enhanced view of Spirit Mound
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Enhanced view of Spirit Mound
"Private Joseph Field" gravel deposit
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"Private Joseph Field" gravel deposit
Landing platform inside Eagle Crater on right
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Landing platform inside Eagle Crater on right
A possible water channel on Mars
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A possible water channel on Mars
Enhanced color panorama of Perseverance Valley
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Enhanced color panorama of Perseverance Valley
Path taken by Opportunity
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Path taken by Opportunity
Perspective view of Perseverance Valley
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Perspective view of Perseverance Valley
Perspective view of Perseverance Valley with annotations
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Perspective view of Perseverance Valley with annotations
Dawn on Mars as seen by Opportunity
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Dawn on Mars as seen by Opportunity
View gallery - 81 images

It was only meant to last about three months, but NASA's Opportunity Mars rover has officially clocked up 5,000 Martian days exploring the Red Planet. That's a little over 5,151 Earth days in which the robotic geologist has traversed a record 28 mi (45 km) across the surface of Mars to unlock the secrets of the planet's history and geology – and it's not done yet. To commemorate this anniversary, New Atlas has put together a gallery of some of the mission's highlights from the past 14 years.

Exploring Mars isn't easy. It's a harsh environment far from home filled with nasty surprises that have put paid to more than one expensive mission. Worse, the Martian day is an aggravating 40 minutes longer than the one Earth. This means that mission control at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California measures time in Martian "sols," or the duration of a solar day on Mars. This way, the mission planning and duty rosters remain in sync with Opportunity and other rovers on the planet.

Launched on July 7, 2003 atop a Delta II rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, the Boeing-built, 408-lb (185-kg) Opportunity is also known as Mars Exploration Rover-B (MER-A). It landed on the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on January 25, 2004, which was three weeks after its sister rover, Spirit (MER-A), touched down on the opposite side of the planet.

Dawn on Mars as seen by Opportunity
Dawn on Mars as seen by Opportunity

Opportunity was originally designed to operate for 90 sols (92 days), but the unmanned explorer turned out to be a classic example of NASA over-engineering that has continued to function productively for 55 times its designed service life and will continue to do so for who knows how long. Meanwhile, Spirit didn't fare as well. It, too lasted longer than designed, but became stuck in a sand dune in 2009 and remained there until communication was lost in 2010.

What's remarkable about Opportunity lasting so long is that, unlike the later Curiosity rover, it isn't nuclear powered. It relies on solar panels for its energy. So, whereas Curiosity isn't affected much by the weather, Opportunity suffers power shortages when dust and dirt accumulates on its panels and in the gloom of winter it has to give top priority to simply keeping its electronics warm. Due to this, mission control was surprised that the rover actually survived its first winter, much less reach sol 5,000 on February 15.

Thanks to its never-say-die attitude, Opportunity has had a long and productive career. So far it's studied the impact crater that it landed in by chance, then the surrounding flat plain, examined soil and rock samples, taken panoramic images, and has even photographed a passing comet.

Marathon Valley
Marathon Valley

In addition, it's discovered the presence of hematite and evidence of the past presence of water on Mars, provided a long baseline survey of the Martian surface, as well as a better understanding of the part water played in the formation of the region's minerals, calibrated observations by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, sent back over 225,000 images, and helped to determine the likelihood of life existing or having existed on the planet. It even found the first meteorite ever discovered on Mars, which was thought at first to be a fragment of the landing platform's heat shield.

But it's also had some close calls. Opportunity was almost lost in 2005 when it became stuck in a sand dune and had to be extracted a few centimeters at a time. And, despite its longevity, in 2014 the rover's computer memory was failing and can now operate in a RAM-only configuration. However, that didn't stop it on July 28, 2014 from breaking the off-planet long distance record for a ground vehicle when its odometer passed 40 km (25 mi), which was followed by its completion of the distance of a marathon ( 42.195 km, 26.219 mi) on March 24, 2015.

Clockwise from the bottom, Sojourner, Opportunity, and Curiosity
Clockwise from the bottom, Sojourner, Opportunity, and Curiosity

"We've reached lots of milestones, and this is one more," says Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, "but more important than the numbers are the exploration and the scientific discoveries."

Currently, Opportunity is about one-third of the way down Perseverance Valley, which is a shallow channel cutting into the rim of Endeavour Crater. Take a look through our gallery for a look at the journey that got it there.

Source: NASA

View gallery - 81 images
1 comment
noteugene
Miles traveled on earth would take about 14 minutes that's taken the rover 14 yrs? Hard for me to get excited about those nbrs. Guess you'd have to be a scientist.