Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The NASA Opportunity rover, officially MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover-B), has been on Mars for 5,000 sols (or Martian days) since it landed on Jan. 25, 2004. Well, officially over 5,000 days as of this writing since Opportunity reached this historic milestone last Feb. 17.
What makes this record more incredible is that Opportunity was only supposed to last just 90 sols. A combination of tough engineering; smart planning and creative resourcefulness (such as pointing the rover’s solar panels northwards so they could recharge in the evening) gave Opportunity a longevity no one on Earth imagined it would achieve.
Opportunity’s companion rover, Spirit (MER-A) which landed a few weeks earlier, became stuck in the Martian soil in 2010, preventing it from pointing its solar panels towards the Sun. NASA eventually decided to let it go, and stopped all communications with Spirit in 2011.
All by its lonesome, Opportunity kept plodding forward and has now traveled over 45 kilometers and sent 225,000 images back to Earth. The rover helped scientists discover that surface and groundwater likely existed on Mars, among many other discoveries.
“Five thousand sols after the start of our 90-sol mission, this amazing rover is still showing us surprises on Mars,” said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas.
Launched on July 7, 2003 as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program, Opportunity landed on the Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, three weeks after Spirit touched down on the other side of the planet.
Opportunity has continued to move, make scientific observations and report back to Earth for over 55 times its designed lifespan.
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