On the 17th of February 2018, the Mars Exploration rover, ‘Opportunity’, marked its 5000th sol on Mars. (A sol is a day on Mars, roughly 40 minutes longer than a day on Earth).
NASA’s Mars mission with ‘Opportunity’ took off from Cape Canaveral in 2003 and made its ultimate landing on Jan 25 2004 – weeks after its twin Spirit just landed. Both rovers’ missions were to find water on the Red Planet. It succeeded – more than once. (Well, not exactly water, but evidence of groundwater and surface water environments, which proved early Mars had water on its surface).
Both rovers were initially sent for an anticipated 90 sols mission. However, astronomers and scientists were baffled – and continue to be baffled – to see these two have outlived their intended time.
Unfortunately, Spirit could no survive longer. It was bogged on the Martian soil and went unresponsive in 2010. NASA pronounced it dead a year later.
However, its twin – the golf-cart sized rover, Opportunity – still survives, carrying its mission solo.
Opportunity’s equipment and achievements
The rover was packed with effective scientific equipment to perform a variety of experiments. These include Panoramic Camera, Microscopic Imager, Miniature Thermal Emission Spectrometer, Mossbauer Spectrometer, Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer, Rock Abrasion Tool, Magnet arrays, Hazard Avoidance Cameras, Navigation Cameras. (Whoa, that’s a lot of tech! Looks like we’re going to need need a whole new course to understand, so stay tuned?).
This tech has so far analysed the soil samples, reporting back to Earth with its findings. It has also clicked about 225,000 images… including many selfies. Opportunity trekked and scoured through many craters like Victoria and Endeavour to learn about Martian history. Its current mission and position is on Perseverance Valley. Read more about its latest findings here!
NASA informed the media that this rover started showing signs of “ageing”. Its memory has been corrupted, and can subsequently no longer store data. NASA wiped the memory and tried resets, but this did not help. So they have been using the Random Access Memory (which loses its data when powered off) and have the data sent back to Earth immediately if it’s critical, else before the rover is turned off. This will go on as long as it works and the rover is in working condition.
Even though it’s ageing, I am pretty sure that it will go down like the great “Cassini”, by providing results and findings that will help scientist discover a lot more about Mars. So until then: Laters, Opportunity!
If you love Mars (the planet, not the yummy yummy chocolates – although you can love them too), have a read of this article, which observes the correlation between sci-fi movies and the Trump administration’s Mars travel concepts.