Goodnight, sweet bot: NASA’s Opportunity Rover ends its Mars mission

In 2003, NASA engineers saw their twin Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit land on the red planet. Opportunity was designed to last a mere 90 Martian days (days that are 39 minutes longer than our earthly turnaround) and travel approximately 1000 metres.

15 years later, Opportunity rover was still chugging along, far outlasting its twin Spirit which ended transmission in 2010 after trapping itself in sand. Opportunity rover managed to clock more than 60 times its expected lifespan, and travel more than 45 kilometres before losing contact after an intense dust storm. NASA today announced that they failed to make contact with the rover during their last planned attempt, and were officially putting ‘Oppy’ to rest.

During its lifetime, Oppy racked up a significant list of achievements which shaped what we now know about this mysterious, dusty planet.

 

1. Opportunity discovered that Mars once had water on its surface

Opportunity rover stumbled upon what scientists back on Earth described as ‘little blueberries’. These strange, shiny, circular blobs were discovered to be hematite, a metallic element that is usually formed in the presence of water back on Earth.

The hematite, discovered at the bottom of a crater, suggests that Mars once had standing water on its surface, like a pond or water hole back on earth. The significance of that discovery suggests that once upon a time, Mars’ conditions may have been able to support rudimentary microbial life in the same way that Earth did a few billion years back!

 

2. Opportunity gave us an insight into life on Mars

Did you know that Mars sunsets are blue? Either did we, until Oppy sent back images of the cool-toned sunset along with other never-before-seen images of the red planet.

Oppy showed us what Mars terrain looked like (red and extremely sandy), and even how steep its craters could get (Opportunity once survived traversing a crater’s edge with a 30 degree incline – that may seem like nothing to walk on, but is quite a feat for a rover!)

 

3. Opportunity broke the off-Earth record for driving

It may not have been a speed demon, but golf-cart sized Oppy had the furthest run of any off-Earth rover to date. Its total mileage was approximately 45.16 kilometres, which surpassed the previous record of 37 kilometres held by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover.

Rest in peace, Oppy. We’ll be thinking of you today!

Hop on to Twitter or Facebook to join the conversation and bid R.I.P. to Oppy!


Image via NASA/JPL-Solar System Visualization Team

Eliza Brockwell

Author: Eliza Brockwell

Eliza is the Digital Producer for Careers with STEM. Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.

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