For a robot that was only supposed to last for three months, the plucky little Mars Opportunity rover is doing remarkably well as it prepares to enter its 10th year of exploration on the Red Planet.
"No one could've imagined how good the exploration and scientific discovery would be for this vehicle, looking from the perspective of nine years ago," said Opportunity project manager John Callas, from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"It's been a phenomenal accomplishment."
[ Related: NASA's Opportunity rover begins year 10 on Mars ]
Opportunity landed on Mars late on January 24th, 2004, safely nestled in a cushion of airbags as it bounced across the dusty landscape to land just a short distance from Endeavour Crater. Once it rolled off its lander, it joined its sister-rover, Spirit, in exploring the Martian surface for signs that there was once liquid water on the planet's surface, sometime in the past. Evidence of clays and other deposits that typically occur in the presence of water (such as gypsum) were detected by orbiting spacecraft, but Spirit and Opportunity provided a close-up, hands-on component for the search that has yielded a growing mountain of results that are showing that Mars not only had a much wetter past, but also much warmer.
In addition to their primary mission, the rovers made some other amazing discoveries, such as the first meteorite discovered on another planet, Earth-like clouds in the Martian sky, and most recently evidence that the ancient Mars environment may have been suitable for life.
Although Opportunity is starting to show its age, the rover is still doing remarkably well, and with some more good fortune, it may last for many years more. With it approaching its teen years, though, NASA should start to think about imposing some rules: No calling Curiosity after 9 o'clock. No drawing faces in the Martian dust to prank the satellites. No crank calls to the Voyager probes, since the long-distance charges would be astronomical!
As an apology for the terrible pun (sorry, that was wrong of me), here are some great photos that Opportunity took of its surroundings, in celebration of its anniversary.
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