Six Things to Know About NASA’s Opportunity Rover

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Looking Back on Opportunity Rover Tracks: This scene from the panoramic camera on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity looks back toward part of the west rim of Endeavour Crater that the rover drove along, heading southward, during the summer of 2014. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/ASU.

After 15 years, the mission of NASA’s Opportunity rover has come to an end, but its successes on Mars have earned it a spot in the robot hall of fame. Here’s what you need to know about our intrepid Martian overachiever:

1. Opportunity had a twin.

The Mars Exploration Rovers mission featured two identical, golf car sized, solar-powered rovers: Spirit and Opportunity. Spirit landed at Gusev Crater on Jan. 4, 2004. Opportunity landed on the other side of Mars at Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, 2004 PST (Jan. 25 EST). Both rovers were guided for NASA by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.


Spirit And Opportunity By The Numbers: This infographic highlights NASA’s twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers (MER) Spirit and Opportunity. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech. Full image and caption ›

2. The Opportunity and Spirit showed that Mars had wet and hot conditions that had the potential to live in its past.

First among Spirit and Opportunity’s many science discoveries: Mars was most likely wetter and warmer in the past. These conditions could have served as a provide for life on Mars at a time when life first appeared on Earth.


Martian ‘Blueberries’:
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS

Opportunity conduced several key findings to this result. It was the first rover to identify and characterize sedimentary rocks on a planet other than Earth. Opportunity’s measurements showed these rocks formed in ancient ephemeral playas. The opportunity also discovered small hematite spheres, called “blueberries”, which formed late, acidic groundwater.
After the opportunity reached the edge of the Endeavor crater, the mobile found the white veins of the mineral gypsum – a flood of water passing through the underground fractures. The opportunity also found more attractive signs on Mars of the Endeavor Crater than Mars’ watery past: clay minerals with neutral pH (not very acidic, very basic) in water. Among all the sites examined by the deal, Endeavor’s environment had the most lively conditions for old microbial life.

3. Opportunity is an off-world record holder.

The opportunity worked longer than other robots on the surface of Mars – more than 14 years. This has already exceeded the 90-day original mission planned for Opportunity and Spirit.

The opportunity lasted 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers) during his time on Mars, and in 2014 he broke the longest driving record in another world.


East Rim of Endeavour Crater: NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity used its panoramic camera to record this eastward horizon view on the 2,407th Martian day, or sol, of the rover’s work on Mars (Oct. 31, 2010). Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University.

4. Opportunity was the little rover that can.

Opportunity didn’t survive for over 14 years because its mission was easy. It encountered challenges that required its engineers to be resourceful. For instance, the rover’s right-front wheel sometimes drew more current than the other wheels, so engineers often drove the rover backward to extend the right front wheel’s life.

The land was wicked. Then the rover landed at Eagle Crater, its wheels slipped on the loose hills when it first attempted to drive out of the crater. Rover planners had to come up with creative driving strategies to get out — something they did again at Endurance Crater, where hills were as steep as 31 degrees. On April 26, 2005, Opportunity’s wheels dug into a soft, wind-sculpted sand ripple and got stuck for several nail-biting weeks at “Purgatory Dune.” But after extensive testing in a Mars-like sandbox at JPL, the team was able to cautiously shimmy out of the Martian sand snare.


‘Pillinger Point’ Overlooking Endeavour Crater on Mars: This May 14, 2014, scene from the Pancam on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity catches “Pillinger Point,” on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, in the foreground and the crater’s eastern rim on the horizon. The scene’s false color makes differences in surface materials more easily visible. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ.

Opportunity’s Devilish View from on High: From its perch high on a ridge, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recorded this image of a Martian dust devil twisting through the valley below. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.


5. Opportunity and Spirit present us the beauty of Mars.

Opportunity and Spirit were avid documentarians, giving us a human-scale view of what it was like to be on Mars. They returned over 342,000 raw images, which were urgently posted online for everyone’s delectation. These two rovers also produced 31 stunning 360-degree color panoramas.

Most memorable images took the opportunity, including waves of sand, resembling waves in the water, steep rock traces on a crater edge, pointed dust demons and their traces along a ridge.

6. The story of Opportunity and Spirit is not over. Their lessons live on in current and future Mars missions.


Looking Back on a Golden Opportunity: In this navigation camera raw image, NASA’s Opportunity Rover looks back over its own tracks on Aug. 4, 2010. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech.

The achievemennt of the Mars Exploration Rovers helped drive the growing of NASA’s Mars program, building support for orbiters and new kinds of rovers. Spirit and Opportunity showed how mobile robots on Mars can communicate trusty with Earth, use 3-D vision to navigated the Martian lands and make autonomous science observations.

The wonder and approaching Mars 2020 explorer is based on Spirit and Opportunity courses. Scientists will continue to make new discoveries from Mars Exploration Rovers for years to come.

The Spirit and the Opportunity have been a fruitful field of education for hundreds of engineers and planet scientists who have learned in robotic knees. A number of studies continue to lead other space missions. Many of the Opportunities currently running share their expertise with part-time tasks that examine our solar system. For most, work on the Spirit and Opportunity was the converter.

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