Opportunity Rover | NASA’s Record Setting Rover
The Tireless Explorer!
The Opportunity Rover is one of two Mars Exploration Rovers (along with its twin Spirit) sent to the Red Planet in 2003 by NASA. Solar powered, the little 6-wheeled rover has far outlasted its planned 90-day surface mission, covering over 45.16 kilometres during its 15 years exploring Mars’ dusty surface. NASA lost communications with Opportunity after a planet wide dust storm, but the little rover made many important discoveries and confirmed that liquid water once existed on Mars’ ancient surface!
Opportunity Rover Fast Summary Facts
- Type: Lander/Rover
- Destination: Mars
- Status: Ongoing
- Rover Weight: 185 kg (408 lbs)
- Launch Location: Cape Canaveral, Florida
- Launch Date: July 7th 2003
- Arrival Date: January 25th 2004
- Last Contact: June 10th 2018
- Distance Covered: 45.16 km (28.06 miles)
- Mission Duration: 15 years! (55 times its designed lifetime)
Cool Fun Facts All About The Opportunity Rover Mission!
- During the 2003 Mars-Earth launch window, NASA sent two identical solar-powered rovers as part of the continued rover-based exploration of Mars.
- The scientific objectives of the Opportunity mission are to locate and study a variety of rocks and soils related to the past water activity on Mars. This is because water is important for the existence of life as we know it.
- Opportunity’s instruments are located in two places; on top of its mast are the rover's cameras with its scientific instruments located at the end of its arm.
- As a tribute to the fallen, the Opportunity Rover (and Spirit Rover) has fragments of metal from the World Trade Centre incorporated into its cable shield.
- The Opportunity Rover (and its twin, Spirit) are six-wheeled, solar-powered robots standing 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) high, 2.3 meters (7.5 ft) wide and 1.6 meters (5.2 ft) long with a mass of 185 kilograms (408 lb).
- Opportunity has a top speed of 180 metres an hour (or 0.11 mph)! Only just faster than a snail!
- When the Opportunity Rover landed on Mars, surrounded by its protective inflated airbags, it bounced and rolled along the Martian surface before coming to rest in a small crater. This resembled a ‘hole-in-one’ shot made all the way from Earth!
- It can also get very cold on Mars at night, so Opportunity has a small radioisotope heater (RHU) – basically a small nuclear heater - to heat its critical systems!
- In early 2005, the little rover almost became permanently stuck in soft sand and took the engineers from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) 6 weeks to work out how to get it unstuck!
- Opportunity also found, by chance, an iron-nickel meteorite; the first meteorite found on the surface of another planet!
- The rover’s solar panels produced more power than scientist expected. This is due to the Martian winds periodically clearing dust off the panels that normally reduces their power generation ability.
- Originally the surface rover mission was planned to last 90 Martian days (or about 92 Earth days!). Amazingly, the Opportunity Rover lasted over 15 years (5,498 Earth days) from launch to mission end – well over 50 times longer than planned!! This is far longer than any other rover, or lander, in space exploration history!
- The Opportunity Rover covered over 45 kilometres (28 miles), a record for the greatest distance covered by any rover!
- Some of Opportunity’s most important achievements to date have been to discover layered sedimentary rocks, analyse ‘blueberry’ sized spheres of a mineral called hematite and other minerals which indicate the presence of liquid water in the distant past.
- The Opportunity Rover took nearly 225,000 pictures from the Martian surface and sent them back to Earth!
- On June 10th 2018 a planetary dust storm on Mars resulted in Opportunity's batteries running low and it ceased communications with Earth. It was hoped it would reboot once the weather cleared and any potential dust on the solar panels had been blown off, but the little rover never replied to any of the 1000 signals the scientists sent... 🙁
- In honour of Opportunity’s contribution to space exploration, the rover has had a small asteroid named after it.