Ten Years Later NASA’s Opportunity Rover is Still Going Strong

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./Arizona State Univ

While the flashy new Curiosity rover is celebrating the completion of its first full Martian year,  the much smaller but remarkably resilient Opportunity rover is still going strong in its 10th (Earth) year on Mars.  And as JPL reports, perched on the rim of the Endeavour crater and scoured by winter winds, Opportunity’s solar panel’s are the cleanest they have been in years, generating sufficient power to allow the rover to work through the night.  And it is still doing great science.

Working in  concert with data derived from the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, Opportunity is investigating a deposit of a 240 meter aluminum bearing mineral called montmorillonite, bound with hydrogen and in a type of clay.

Combined with previous evidence from iron bearing clay found to the north, it paints a picture of a local Martian environment heavily influenced by water, one which may have been conducive to microbial life.

Even if that was not the case, the ongoing discovery of useful mineral deposits could also be taken as a reassuring sign that once humans finally make it to the Red Planet, the core materials necessary to build a sustainable civilization are there, provided we know where to look.

There is also another point worth considering, and that is the unusually long life of the twin rovers, Spirit (which ceased operations in 2010) and Opportunity.  One of the many “Dragons of Mars” put forward by some in the hand-wringing, study the problem forever crowd concerns a reliance on solar power. The fear is that solar panels just won’t last long enough in the harsh Martian environment, and will inevitably be degraded by the ubiquitous dust.

To some extent, that is no doubt accurate. At the same time however, the remarkable longevity of the twin Mars rovers suggests that even at this early hour, we (at least those at JPL) are already pretty good at designing equipment which can work for many years in that same environment.

Posted in: Mars

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