Space Exploration, a topic every people have thought about once in their lifetime. Development of technologies and human curiosity has made space exploration a reality. Not Human exploration but we are getting there. And today we are going to learn about one of those endeavors that increased our knowledge about a planet not far from us but very different from the one that we call Earth. Today we are going to talk about a robot that was sent to The Red Planet, Mars, to collect data and increase our understanding of the planet. Opportunity or ‘Oppy’ was a robotic rover that was part of the Mars Exploration Rover program. The program had four primary goals: to determine if life existed on Mars, to characterize the climate of Mars and its geology and to prepare for a potential human mission.
History of Mars Opportunity Rover:
The opportunity was launched on July 7, 2003, a month apart from its twin Spirit launched on June 10. Both rovers landed successfully on Mars on Jan 2004. The rovers were designed with 90 sols lifetime or approximately 92 earth days but ended up lasting much longer. Opportunity lasted a total of 5498 days, 55 times longer and Spirit lasted 20 times.
Opportunity investigated a crater named Endurance crater from June to December 2004. It also discovered an intact meteorite, now called Heat Shield Rock near its impact site on Mars surface. It visited numerous craters like Erebus crater, Victoria crater between 2005 and 2006. In August 2008, it left Victoria crate for Endeavor crate which it reached on August 9. 2011. There it remained till 2013, analyzing rocks, land its structures. Its next destination was a hill named Solander Point.
During June 2018, a large planetary-scale dust storm occurred on Mars resulting in low power generation for the rover to communicate. The last contact was on June 10. NASA sent hundreds of recovery commands from June of 2018 to January of 2019. NASA officially declared the end of the mission on Feb 13, 2019.
The Opportunity traveled a total distance of 45.16 km from its landing date on Jan 2004 till the last communication. During that period, it captured some of the amazing pictures from Mars and provided various data for our scientists to understand the Red Planet better. The final words that the rover sent were: “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
Currently, NASA has another robot explorer named Curiosity and has performed many great discoveries.