The story of the longest-lived robot in the solar system….
Mars has always been a source of great curiosity and attraction for mankind. From philosophers, who saw it as a symbol of bravery and vigour, to astronomers, who have tried to find life on the planet, it has always managed to garner extreme interest.
And so, in an attempt to know more about our neighbour in the solar system, NASA had launched countless probes, fly-bys and orbiters over the past half-century, but largely they were unsuccessful. But there was one mission which exceeded everyone’s expectations: Opportunity!
Opportunity rover landed on Mars on 24th January, 2004, with an aim to provide more insights into our understanding of the Martian terrain and its geology. Moreover, it was also going to tell us about existence of life on the planet.
One of the main accomplishments of the rover was that while analysing the soil samples, it found blue-berry-like stones, which hinted towards the possibility of acidic water on the surface. And it didn’t end here; Over the next two Earth-years the rover spent on Victoria crater, it found plenty more evidence to convince us of the presence of salty and acidic water on the planet.
After its stint at the Victoria crater, Opportunity was direct to move towards Endurance crater, where it had to look for its lost heat shield. It was there, that the rover accidentally came across the first meteorite on the planet. Not surprisingly, it was later named “Heat Shield Meteorite”. At the Endurance crater, the rover discovered signs of fresh water from clay-like soil, which undoubtedly led to speculations about whether life had existed before on Mars. Over the years, Opportunity has also collected astronomical observations and data from the atmosphere.
Then, things started to go downhill. In June 2018, a large dust-storm hit Opportunity, taking away its ability to generate power through solar panels. Subsequently after the storm settled in October, NASA sent over a thousand recovery commands to the rover, but to no avail. One of the last messages recieved from the red planet was: “My battery is low and it’s getting dark”. This instantly struck a chord with people all over the world, raising sad reactions and sympathies for the rover. Finally, on 13th February 2019, NASA officially declared mission Opportunity concluded.
Truly, one could have never asked for more from mission Opportunity. It exceeded all expectations by staying on-site for 15 remarkable years, whereas it was originally meant to last for a period of only 90 days. During its lifetime, Opportunity travelled an overall distance of 46 kms, the most by any rover until its time. In order to honour the extraordinary efforts displayed by the rover, a motion was also passed to name a minor planet after the mission. Clearly, it will be long before we come across another gem of a mission like Opportunity!