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Opportunity Makes an Amazing Lifetime Achievement

Sunday, February 18, 2018 20:07
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The Opportunity Rover Keeps on Going opportunityOpportunity rover on Mars–a composite of several images of the spacecraft taken by its camera. Courtesy NASA/Opportunity mission.

Last week marked Sol 5000 for the Opportunity Rover on Mars. It’s been rolling along ever since it landed there in January 2004, sending back images and data about the area around Endurance crater. Bear in mind that Opportunity (Mars Exploration Rover-B) was originally slated for a 90-day mission. But, like so many other NASA missions to other worlds, it has just gone on and on, like that famed Energizer Bunny. Now, it’s a “teenager” celebrating its 14th birthday on the dusty planet.

The rover has accomplished a lot in those 14 years, traveling more than 45 kilometers (28 miles) in all that time. It has survived dust storms, temperature shifts, and technical issues, all the while sending back a constant array of information. That’s a major accomplishment.

Long-term Exploration

Planetary scientists know that the best chances for getting complete details about a world’s conditions come from doing long-period studies. Doing a flyby gets you a quick snapshot. Sending a probe that lands moves around and samples the conditions gets you “ground truth.” Of course, it’s more expensive and time-consuming to do it that way, but it provides a very detailed look at a complex environment. It’s worth it, especially if future human missions land there and can take advantage of the rich data provided. Planetary science is no longer in the “plant the flag, grab some rocks, get your hiney back to Earth” stage. We’re maturing (we hope) as a scientific civilization, and can take the time needed to do it right.

In a decade, humans will head to Mars. Heck, they may train on the Moon. Before they go, like any other travelers who head to strange new places, they’ll need all the information they can get. That’s where teen-aged Opportunity, her sister Curiosity, and the various orbiters circling Mars will come in handy. I don’t know about you, but I were heading out to the wild unknown on Mars, I’d rather have it be a bit better “known.” So, here’s to Oppy. It’s been a great run and I hope it continues running for a long, long time.

Want to see everything Oppy and her sister ships have been doing? Check out the NASA Mars pages!

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