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Opportunity rover begins tenth year on Mars

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January 24, 2013

Artist's concept of Opportunity leaving its lander (Image: JPL/NASA)

Artist's concept of Opportunity leaving its lander (Image: JPL/NASA)

Image Gallery (26 images)

NASA’s Opportunity rover begins its tenth year on Mars this week. On January 25, 2004 at 05:05 GMT, the unmanned craft landed in Eagle Crater (1.95°S 354.47°E) in the Meridiani Planum region of the Red Planet. Though scheduled for only a 93 day mission, it continues to explore the Martian surface almost a decade later.

Instead of driving the planned total of 2,000 feet (600 m), Opportunity, also known as MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover B), has traveled 22.03 miles (35.46 km) since it landed. Three weeks before it arrived on Mars, its twin rover Spirit landed on the other side of the planet. Thanks to very good engineering and some very good luck, the two rovers lasted years beyond their projected three month lives with Spirit continuing to operate until 2010.

Opportunity’s mission is to study past water activities and geological processes, analyze the mineral composition of rock outcroppings, calibrate findings of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter and seek environments conducive to life. Solar powered, it relies on radioisotope heaters protect it from the freezing Martian nights and its tools include mast cameras and a robotic arm with spectrometers, microscopic imagers and rock abrasion tools.

'Matijevic Hill' panorama for Opportunity's ninth anniversary (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cor...

"Matijevic Hill" panorama for Opportunity's ninth anniversary (Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.)

In the first months of its mission, Opportunity uncovered evidence of water having once been relatively abundant in the area. As the mission was extended, it was sent to larger and larger craters in search of deeper, older geological layers for study.

"What's most important is not how long it has lasted or even how far it has driven, but how much exploration and scientific discovery Opportunity has accomplished," said the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's John Callas, manager of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Project.

Opportunity is currently studying outcroppings on the rim of the 14 mile (22 km) wide Endeavour Crater at an area called "Matijevic Hill" where there may be signs of an older, wet environment that may be less acidic than areas previously investigated.

Source: NASA

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past.   All articles by David Szondy
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6 Comments

You know that's really awesome and a technical marvel but exactly how much is being gleaned from a robot that travels 20 miles in 10 years? Comparative to the support team costs it incurs it would seem to me that the data its pulling is "old" news.

Rocky Stefano
25th January, 2013 @ 06:20 am PST

Just the geological data pays for the mission.

Finding a nice place for our first colonies on Mars is pure gold. :)

badmadman.dontstop
25th January, 2013 @ 09:36 am PST

I agree with Rocky. It seems to me the data is old news. If we ever want to get to Mars, we need more current news. I suggest TMZ Mars edition. All the latest Martian gossip. Which rocks are behaving outrageously and which craters are absolute train-wrecks in a downward spiral. Save Opportunity "news" for my grampa.

domhnall
25th January, 2013 @ 10:34 am PST

I am probably old enough to be your grandfather or your grandfather's grandfather and I think the Mars rover programs are great, high res and 3D pictures of the Mars landscape never get old. Good job NASA!

Johnboy
25th January, 2013 @ 11:55 am PST

Sure and of course everything is made of basically less than 200 elements so that's old news. The fact that so much exists from less than 200 is not, there R i believe at this time about 10 million compounds that contain carbon and some of them R bio. Bio is the search, it's slow because it needs to be U don't want to go fast here U want to have a good slow look. The difference between research and those that want instant gratification.

slayerwulfe
25th January, 2013 @ 11:15 pm PST

re; Rocky Stefano

While by normal standards 20 miles is not very far it does increase the odds that it is taking truly representative samples. Taking as many samples as possible over the largest area as possible is simply scientific rigger.

The support costs of continuing the operation of existing probes is far less than the cost of sending new probes.

Slowburn
26th January, 2013 @ 01:58 am PST
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