July 7, 2003. On this date, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity blasted off on a journey to Mars. After traveling for some seven months through space, Opportunity landed on Mars’ Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, three weeks after its twin rover Spirit touched down on the other side of the planet. Spirit stopped moving across Mars’ surface in 2009, and it stopped sending back signals to Earth in 2010. But, 10 years after liftoff, Opportunity remains active, having exceeded its planned 90 sol (90 Martian days) duration of activity by 9 years, 68 days, as measured in earthly time.
Remember the 7 minutes of terror experienced in August 2012 by space scientists following the newest Mars rover, Curiosity? Mars landings are difficult and risky, and some spacecraft have been destroyed while attempting to land. All the more reason to celebrate Opportunity’s 10th anniversary today.
After nine-plus years of traveling, Opportunity recently set the U.S. space program’s all-time record for mileage on another planet. The milestone occurred on May 15, 2013, when the rover drove 80 meters, bringing its total odometry 35.760 kilometers or 22.220 miles. NASA says:
Opportunity is celebrating [its 10-year anniversary] by driving. The rover is currently en route to Solander Point, a place on the rim of Endurance Crater where a treasure-trove of geological layers is exposed for investigation.
To follow Opportunity and other rovers on Mars, please visit http://marsrovers.jpl.nasa.gov/
Bottom line: NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity blasted off 10 years ago today, on July 7, 2003. Ten years after liftoff, Opportunity remains active
Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. "Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers," she says.