By Krishna Rao
What happened to Opportunity after 15 years of service to the scientific community?
On the seventh of July, 2003, NASA launched what was to be one of its most important Mars Rovers. This rover, known as Opportunity and nicknamed Oppy lasted almost a full 5,500 days in Earth time. While on Mars, Oppy made a series of incredibly important discoveries that changed the way we looked at the Red Planet.
The day is Monday, July 7, 2003, and something truly special is about to happen at Cape Canaveral, Florida. One of NASA’s Mars Rovers, Opportunity, is about to embark on a mission to a planet 54.6 million kilometers away. It’s about to take a long, long break from social interaction. The rover was supposed to last for 3 months on the rough Martian surface. But the rover blew away everyone’s expectations, in every way possible. #underestimated.
After 6 long months, Opportunity landed on Mars on the 25th of January 2004. And the moment the rover landed on Mars, the rover started helping scientists on Earth. The rover immediately began doing its thing at its landing site. It instantly found hematite (a mineral form of Iron Oxide) on the surface of Mars, allowing scientists at NASA to begin making hypotheses about the past presence of water on Mars. #efficiency.
According to NASA, the rover also set a one-day Mars driving record on the 20th of March 2005, where the rover traveled 220 meters. The rover took 217,000 photos and sent all of these back to Earth (it seems to have a thing for photography). The rover also took multiple rock samples and uncovered “fresh mineral surfaces for analysis”. During its lifetime, the rover also found signs that there was once water on the surface of Mars.
At times, the rover failed. And it failed hard. The rover was stuck in a sand dune for close to two months in 2005. The same year, it also lost steering of one of its front wheels. The rover also started to have problems with its flash memory towards the end of its life. Over the rover’s lifetime, it survived multiple sandstorms (#resilient).
In June 2018, a large sandstorm took place on Mars, causing the rover to fail to send or receive signals. Scientists expected that communications would resume after the storm, however even after the storm passed, the rover did not respond to calls from Earth. Attempts to contact the rover, which were unsuccessful, continued until the beginning of February. On the 13th of February, a press conference was held by NASA to announce the end of the Opportunity. #goodbye.
Even though the Opportunity ended in quite an unfortunate manner, a lot was learned from it, and the rover did far better than what was expected of it. In fact, John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Project said that "When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone's expectations."
After 15 years of traversing the Martian surface, Opportunity finally succumbed to a vicious sandstorm in 2018. Its service to science will never be forgotten.
(Paragraphs 3, 4, 5, 6, 7) “NASA's Opportunity Rover Mission on Mars Comes to End – NASA's Mars Exploration Program.” NASA, NASA, 15 Feb. 2019, mars.nasa.gov/news/8413/nasas-opportunity-rover-mission-on-mars-comes-to-end/.
(Paragraphs 1, 2, 3) “Opportunity (Rover).” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opportunity_(rover).
Image 1 credit Engadget
Image 2 credit Daily Express
Image 3 credit Quartz
(Images numbered in order from top to bottom).