Opportunity celebrates 11 years on Mars with an amazing image
Cape Tribulation is a high point on the edge of Endeavour crater, located on the planet Mars. This spot overlooks the 14 mile (22 kilometer) wide crater and the surrounding terrain. At more than 440 feet (about 135 meters) above the crater rim this location is almost 80 percent of the height of the Washington Monument. NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Opportunity took time to create a panoramic image of this site as a celebration of her 11th birthday on the Martian surface.
Opportunity is also a goodwill ambassador for the people of Earth. The aluminum cable guard of the rover’s rock abrasion tool is made from material found at the World Trade Center after the attack on Sept. 11, 2001. The team who made the rover’s cable guard worked just a few blocks from the site. An American flag was painted on the cable guard in view of the main camera. The flag is intended as a memorial to the victims.
The Opportunity rover and her twin rover, Spirit, were originally designed to work on the Martian surface for about 90 days. So far this rover, about the size of a large riding lawn mower, has been going for 44 times it planned operational lifetime.
To put this into perspective, let’s look at another vehicle, the automobile. The average life of a car in the United States is about 15 years. In Terms of longevity, Opportunity has been running the equivalent of 660 years and still going strong. While suffering from the usual symptoms that come from being a vehicle of her age, Opportunity appears to be in great shape with nothing really keeping the rover from continuing strong. The only potential issue on the horizon would be funding to keep the rover going. While the dollar amounts are not significant in terms of NASA’s budget, the use of those funds on an older rover are funds that cannot be spent on building newer and more advanced rovers to take Opportunity’s place.
While NASA formulates the plans for future Martian exploration, the team of scientists guiding Opportunity across the martian landscape will have plenty to keep themselves busy. The rover will continue to explore the western edge of Endeavour crater, beaming back science from the Red Planet’s surface.
While Spirit might have gone offline, Opportunity is not alone on the planet’s surface. Launched on Nov. 26, 2011, the Mars Science Laboratory Rover Curiosity touched down on Mars in August of 2012. Like Opportunity, Curiosity is also working well past its original warrantee.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology located in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The space agency is planning on launching another robotic geologist, the Mars 2020 Rover, in about five years’ time.
Joe Latrell is a life-long avid space enthusiast having created his own rocket company in Roswell, NM in addition to other consumer space endeavors. He continues to design, build and launch his own rockets and has a passion to see the next generation excited about the opportunities of space exploration. Joe lends his experiences from the corporate and small business arenas to organizations such as Teachers In Space, Inc. He is also actively engaged in his church investing his many skills to assist this and other non-profit endeavors.