From its landing on Mars on January 24, 2004 to the mission’s end, announced on February 13, 2019, NASA’s Opportunity rover has been a wonder of space exploration. For almost 15 years, the golf-cart-size explorer trekked across the Martian landscape, continuing to gather and send data to Earth until a planet-wide dust storm enveloped it in June of 2018. Efforts to wake it up in the following months were unsuccessful.
Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars – Perseverance Valley.
Opportunity’s incredible legacy includes discovering evidence that “ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life.” A summary list of accomplishments from NASA:
- Set a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
- Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
- Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
- Found hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
- Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.
Related reading: Six Things to Know About NASA’s Opportunity Rover.
Plus, more videos about rovers and Mars, and from 2012: Tour all six NASA spacecraft to reach the Red Planet.