WASHINGTON, July 8,2013 — Mars Exploration Rover-2 (MER-2), popularly known as Opportunity, was successfully launched a decade ago on July 7, 2003 and was intended to have an operating life of about three months.
While it didn’t reach the great Red Planet until January of 2004, it’s a monumental feat that the Opportunity rover has superseded its operational expectancy by more than nine years, and is still in action trudging along and exploring one of Earth’s closest planetary neighbors.
The rover is not exactly a machine built for speed, having traveled a grueling 22 miles across the Mars surface during its more than nine years of exploration. Even so, the slow moving pace of the rover hasn’t prevented it from landing in the world records book.
In fact, in May of this year Opportunity surpassed the U.S. off-Earth driving record that had previously been held by the Apollo 17 moon rover.
Astronaut Gene Cernan, on learning the Opportunity rover had surpassed his Apollo 17 moon rover driving record said, “The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity.”
According to NASA, the purpose of the mission to Mars and the overall objective of Opportunity was to search for answers “about the history of water on Mars.” The rover was in luck, as NASA explains: “Opportunity hit the jackpot early. It landed close to a thin outcrop of rocks. Within two months, its versatile science instruments found evidence in those rocks that a body of salty water deep enough to splash in once flowed gently over the area.”
Opportunity continues to move forward and send back critical information about Mars. Not all of the Red Planet’s secrets have been revealed, but Opportunity keeps inching onward, trucking along more than nine years later, which in and of itself is an impressive accomplishment.
To learn more about Opportunity and NASAs missions to Mars, please check out the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Mars Exploration Rovers homepage here.
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