Mars Opportunity Discoveries @ 8 Years
The Mars rover Opportunity was supposed to last three months. It’s now going on Nine Years. It’s proved so durable that in 2011 it was essentially sent on a whole new mission.
Opportunity reached a multi-year driving destination, Endeavour Crater, in August 2011. At Endeavour’s rim, it has gained access to geological deposits from an earlier period of Martian history than anything it examined during its first seven years. It also has begun an investigation of the planet’s deep interior that takes advantage of staying in one place for the Martian winter.
Opportunity landed in Eagle Crater on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, Universal Time and EST (Jan. 24, PST), three weeks after its rover twin, Spirit, landed halfway around the planet. In backyard-size Eagle Crater, Opportunity found evidence of an ancient wet environment. The mission met all its goals within the originally planned span of three months. During most of the next four years, it explored successively larger and deeper craters, adding evidence about wet and dry periods from the same era as the Eagle Crater deposits.
In mid-2008, researchers drove Opportunity out of Victoria Crater, half a mile (800 meters) in diameter, and set course for Endeavour Crater, 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter.
“Endeavour is a window further into Mars’ past,” said Mars Exploration Rover Program Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
The trek took three years. In a push to finish it, Opportunity drove farther during its eighth year on Mars — 4.8 miles (7.7 kilometers) — than in any prior year, bringing its total driving distance to 21.4 miles (34.4 kilometers).
The “Cape York” segment of Endeavour’s rim, where Opportunity has been working since August 2011, has already validated the choice of Endeavour as a long-term goal. “It’s like starting a new mission, and we hit pay dirt right out of the gate,” Callas said.
The first outcrop that Opportunity examined on Cape York differs from any t