January 21, 2013
Ten Years Of Opportunity And Counting
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
The veteran rover first entered Mars' southern hemisphere on January 24, 2004, a few weeks after its twin rover, Spirit, landed on the opposite side of the planet.
Before the media began to have an appetite for Curiosity, Opportunity was the darling rover, touching down on an ancient lake bed complete with minerals that formed in the presence of water.
Ten years ago, the shiny new rover was flawless, and both it and its twin, Spirit, were the latest pieces of technology out of NASA. However, now the rover is starting to show its age.
Opportunity is still rolling around on Mars, but with a messed up joint in its robotic arm and a faulty front wheel that causes it to drive backwards. However, the rover is still kicking, unlike its twin rover, Spirit.
Spirit found itself stuck on Mars, and engineers worked for a long time trying maneuvers to get the rover unstuck, but were unsuccessful. In 2010, NASA determined it was mission complete for the rover.
Lately, Opportunity is parked on a clay hill along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. NASA hopes to complete some tasks around its current spot in the next several months and then drive south where the terrain looks ripe for discovery.
Like Curiosity now, when the rovers were young, they were in the limelight, with students and fans keeping track of every move Opportunity and Spirit made. However, now they are slightly overshadowed by their younger brother.
Curiosity landed on Mars back in August, and since then it has been heralded as one of the greatest engineering accomplishments in history as it successfully landed during the "Seven Minutes of Terror."
The new rover sits at Gale crater, equipped with the most technology ever packed into a rover, including high resolution color cameras, drills, lasers, weather sensors, etc. However, one thing that Curiosity doesn't have that Opportunity does is experience on the Red Planet.
Almost 5,000 miles away from NASA's new gem, Opportunity has made its way around several craters, helping scientists uncover more clues into Mars' past.
NASA plans for Opportunity to continue studying the chemical makeup of its local regions on Mars and help understand the ages of several rocks at its location. It has logged nearly 22 miles since landing on the Red Planet.
Curiosity, on the other hand, will be using its advanced technology to gain a little experience, and help try to find some carbon during its two-year prime mission. Hopefully, the latest-and-greatest NASA rover will have the lifetime Opportunity has experienced.