Tuesday, June 21, 2016

The Mars Rover Is Still Going Strong After 12 Years

Humans need to explore. It's a dangerous undertaking, but we can't face a horizon and not try to find out what's beyond it. Every boundary comes with a mystery that must be solved. And the Earth's outer atmosphere is no different.

But as much as exploration is dangerous, exploring in outer space raises the difficulty exponentially. And we've only been sending humans into orbit for 50 years. It's relatively new. We've learned a lot, but still, lives are at stake. That's why we've been sending robots instead.

But NASA has been buidling on the Pathfinder mission that landed on Mars and gave us our first view from the red planet's surface in 1997. NASA launched a pair of new rovers in 2003. Nobody expected either of them to still be roaming Mars 12 years later. They've accomplished far more than ever thought possible, set records, and shown us that the surface of another planet doesn't have to be completely hostile – and the best might be yet to come. 

Opportunity hit Martian soil in January 2004 after a six-month journey. 

Among the first images it sent back to Earth was the scene of its landing, with drag marks from its parachute making waves in the alien soil.

It also sent back a high-res panorama from its landing spot, complete with impact spots from where its airbag hit the ground.

Even in color, the landscape appears to be dry and desolate.

The original goal for the mission was to have each rover – Opportunity and its twin, Spirit – drive up to 44 yards a day (40 meters) up to a total of about three-quarters of a mile (one kilometer)

Here, Opportunity finds its heat shield while roaming the Martian landscape.

The mission was expected to last just 90 days. But in the 12 years that have passed since its landing, Opportunity has been the Little Rover That Could, playing multiple roles and making massive discoveries along the way.

It doesn't look like much, but this photo is huge because you, me, and everybody who has ever lived is in it. That bright speck? That's Earth.

Just over a month into its mission, Opportunity drilled into some rocks and found evidence of water on Mars. 

And water means the potential for life.

The scientists behind the wheel of Opportunity were particularly drawn to craters because they provide easy access to many different layers of soil.

Mind you, the access wasn't so easy for the rover. This exit from the crater took three days!

Of course, there were plenty of surprises on Mars, like the strange dark substance covering these rocks, nicknamed "Chocolate Hills." 

It was thought the material could be a remnant of a meteor impact from a nearby crater. Opportunity took a bite but couldn't figure out what the stuff was.

At the edge of Cape Tribulation, overlooking 14-mile wide Endeavour Crater, Opportunity paused for a stunning panorama from the highest point it has reached so far. 

The image contains a touching salute as well. The cable guard for Opportunity's rock abrasion tool has an American flag on it and is made from aluminum recovered from the World Trade Center. Opportunity and Spirit were under construction in Manhattan in September 2001.

Here's a close up of the American flag on the Opportunity rover!

Opportunity's twin, Spirit, ran into trouble back in 2009. Its wheels got stuck in soft soil and couldn't extract itself.

After months of attempts to free the rover, ground crew ended its mission in 2011. 

Meanwhile, Opportunity keeps on rolling; to date, it has covered more than a marathon's worth of distance. 

Better still, it shows no sign of stopping. 

It's just going to keep on grinding rocks and exploring Earth's neighbor, sending back incredible, unprecedented images until it can't anymore. 

Although, considering how long it has lasted beyond its expected "best before" date, it's anybody's guess as to how long that will be.

How long do you think it'll last? "Like" if you hope it keeps going!

Main image via Jet Propulsion Laboratory / NASA/JPL-Caltech

Collage image via Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Author: verified_user