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The Opportunity Rover Celebrated Twelve Years on Mars

Opportunity Rover

Image credit: Opportunity grinding rocks in the Marathon Valley. NASA

On Sunday, January 24, 2004, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity first landed on the surface of Mars, so it have been 12 Earth years there this year.

Being budgeted to last 90 days, Opportunity was expected to have a lifespan for several months, because its solar panel was thought to possibly covered in dust and halt its function. However, thankful for some factors, wind on Mars included as well, the tenacious rover has been capable of standing the harsh environment on Martian for a much unexpected longer period.

Although the rover was still working, it appeared to have some aging issues in terms of difficulty of maneuvering and memory storage problems. Additionally two of its scientific instruments have failed to continue working completely. But apart from such problems, Opportunity is still creating an abundance of science.

At present, the rover is on exploration tour in a region rich in clay minerals being formed in wet conditions. The area is named as Marathon Valley, because the distance between this valley and the landing site of Opportunity in Eagle is 42 kilometers (26 miles), which is just the Olympic marathon distance.

According to John Callas, Exploration Rover Project Manager, If the Opportunity had healthy power levels, it could be able to finish the work in MarathonValley this year and more work was expected to be done by Opportunity.

Now the rover is removing surface crust from rocks in the valley. With help of its robotic arm, the texture and composition are being examined carefully.

As the Martian winter began in January, the solar energy that Opportunity is now receiving is much lower than normal times. Therefore, the Exploration Rover Project team positioned the rover in a more favorable sun-facing orientation, by doing so, the amount of power the solar panels are generating would ne significantly increased, thus making power-consuming operations such as drilling and rock-grinding available.

As Callas said, Opportunity had been quite active this winter; one reason was that the solar arrays had been much cleaner than in the previous winters.

The funding for the rover would be ended in the end of 2016, so for the time being the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is trying to go for the next extension proposal. In the last review, Opportunity was awarded the highest rating of any ongoing Mars mission.