While its flashy younger brother Curiosity is getting all the headlines these days, the Opportunity rover will shortly be celebrating its tenth anniversary on the Red Planet (not bad for a machine expected to last for 90 days) and NASA has revealed a selfie to mark the anniversary.
Spirit, Opportunity’s now-defunct sister, landed on the Mars on January 4, 2004. But Opportunity hit the Red Planet just weeks later, on January 25, bouncing off the surface while surrounded by airbags before coming to a halt and taking a look around. Since then it has covered 38.7 kilometers of the rocky Martian surface, and taken more than 170,000 images and relayed them back to Earth using the satellites NASA has in orbit.
“It’s a well-made American vehicle. These are excellent machines, they are well designed, they’re well built, they’re fantastic and that’s why they’re still working,” said Dr Ray Arvidson, deputy principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rover.
The rover is feeling its age, however. Jon Callas, Opportunity’s project manager, explained that the right front steering actuator is frozen and he described the rover’s robotic arm as “arthritic.” Two of the rover’s ten instruments had stopped functioning, but Callas said that nothing had gone wrong in the last year and the rover will be ready to roll when summer comes.
Callas explained that the key to Opportunity’s longevity was a miscalculation by NASA about how Martian dust would hinder its solar panels. The 1997 Pathfinder mission was NASA’s first shot at trying solar power on Mars, but dust accumulation via electrostatic cling killed the system in months.