Mars Exploration Rover — Opportunity
Mars Exploration Rover — Opportunity

Mars Exploration Rover — Opportunity

Courtesy of NASA

Opportunity was the second of two robotic, solar-powered, six-wheel exploration rovers to arrive on Mars. Its twin, Spirit, arrived about three weeks earlier and landed on the opposite side of Mars. NASA hoped that each rover would explore for about 90 days and drive across 1 kilometer of the Martian surface. The rovers traveled separately to Mars, each inside a protective landing shell, but once the antennas deployed, cameras and scientific instruments calibrated, the rovers went on, independent of their protective shells. Through several cameras “eyes” that send images back to engineers on Earth, scientists are able to command the rovers to navigate and perform science investigations, using the onboard instruments, which include a panoramic camera (Pancam), navigational camera, microscopic imager to obtain close-up images of rocks and soils, and instruments to analyze the minerals. A diamond-coated Rock Abrasion Tool exposes fresh material in Martian rocks.

To test the rover idea prior to sending the vehicles to Mars, a prototype rover called FIDO was sent to several desert areas in the United States where scientists practiced navigating and performing experiments.

Opportunity has far outlasted longevity expectations—by more than thirty times—and has also traveled many times farther than originally planned.

July 7, 2003

January 25, 2004

End of Mission
Still operating

Study rocks and soils that may hold clues to past water activity on Mars, study geologic processes near the landing site, verify the accuracy of data obtained by Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, and determine if environmental conditions were ever favorable to life on Mars.

Opportunity endured far beyond its original expectation of 90 days, surpassing 3,000 days in the Martian environment (and it’s still going!), as it continues to make new and profound discoveries. It has survived dust storms that blocked sunlight needed to maintain a power supply, getting stuck and then released from a sand dune, and stresses far beyond anything that was expected. Opportunity originally landed inside a small impact crater, Eagle Crater. The craft found iron mineral hematite in the form of small spherical pebbles nicknamed “blueberries.” Opportunity traveled 7 km (4.3 miles) from the landing site to several other craters (Endurance, Erebus, and Victoria Craters). In its travels, Opportunity found layers of sedimentary rock exposed in the walls of craters containing sulfites and jarosite, chlorine, and bromine, all minerals that require interaction with water to form. These findings provided evidence that suggests the landing site was once the shoreline of a salty sea. Opportunity also discovered an intact meteorite.