The Opportunity Rover
The Opportunity Rover is a robot run by NASA. Opportunity’s mission is to explore Mars. It got to Mars in 2004 and is still in service.
What is Opportunity?
NASA made Opportunity to look at and sample the surface of Mars. Most of what it does relates to the geology of the planet. Its primary mission is to find rocks and soil that may have once encountered water. Scientists are interested in this question because water is critical for life. If water existed on Mars, then lifeforms may have too! Other missions include examining geologic processes that shaped the Martian surface.
The rover is 1.5 meters high and weighs 180 kilograms. It has six large wheels to maintain stability. Don’t count on it going very fast, though! Opportunity’s max speed is only five centimeters per second.
To power the rover, solar panels collect energy from the Sun. These panels power several onboard scientific instruments. Several cameras are on board for taking pictures like the one above. It also holds spectrometers that analyze the elements in Martian soil.
Opportunity launched on June 7th, 2003. It had originally been scheduled to launch several days prior, but the mission was aborted. Oftentimes, a space agency will delay a launch of the conditions are poor or something needs fixing. In this case, high winds prevented a safe launch.
Opportunity traveled over 50 million kilometers to reach Mars. Before hitting the ground, a group of airbags deployed to cushion the landing. Opportunity bounced and rolled to a stop. After deflating the airbags, the mission was ready to begin!
What did Opportunity find?
An image of the Martian surface taken by Opportunity.
Opportunity has found important evidence that water once existed on Mars. It has found minerals and chemicals deposited by water on Martian soil. For example, it found sulfate salts on Martian rocks. These salts only occur on Earth when water evaporates. So far, life has yet to be found on Mars. Additionally, Opportunity helped complete the first measuring of Mars’s atmosphere. This was possible with the help of an existing orbiter around Mars. The orbiter could not see the ground, so data from the Opportunity mission was critical.
To this day, Opportunity is actively exploring the Martian surface. Its initial mission was only supposed to last 90 Martian solar days. Opportunity has since surpassed that number by many years. It holds the record for the longest distance traveled by a rover on another planet.