Express Fact Check: What NASA’s Opportunity rover achievedhttps://indianexpress.com/article/explained/fact-check-ground-reality-what-nasas-opportunity-rover-achieved-5584723/

Express Fact Check: What NASA’s Opportunity rover achieved

NASA put out a factsheet on Spirit and Opportunity rovers after declaring the Mars Exploration Rovers mission over on Wednesday.

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Spirit and Opportunity were identical, golf-cart-sized, solar-powered rovers.

NASA has announced the end of the Opportunity rover’s mission. Opportunity rolled out on to the Martian surface in 2004, 20 days after its twin, Spirit, had landed on the other side of the Red Planet. Over the next 14 years, it got successes that made it one of the most overachieving explorer robots ever built. NASA put out a factsheet on the two rovers after declaring the Mars Exploration Rovers mission over on Wednesday.

Spirit and Opportunity, by numbers

Spirit and Opportunity were identical, golf-cart-sized, solar-powered rovers. Spirit landed at Gusev Crater on January 4, 2004; Opportunity followed, landing on the opposite side of Mars at Meridiani Planum on January 24. Contact with Spirit was lost in March 2010, and the mission was declared over on May 25, 2011. Opportunity continued to roam Mars — and sent out its last signals on June 10, 2018, when the most intense duststorm in recorded Martian history encrusted its solar panels, and damaged critical components.

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Opportunity worked on Mars for over 14 years, longer than any other robot. Both rovers were originally supposed to have only 90-day missions. Opportunity travelled 45.16 km on the surface of Mars, more than any other rover.

Finding Water

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Haematite-rich small spherules, concretions nicknamed “blueberries”; Opportunity’s photo from April 19, 2004, provided evidence of a watery ancient environment. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS)

Foremost among Spirit and Opportunity’s many science discoveries: Mars was likely wetter and warmer in the past. These conditions could have served as a cradle for life on Mars at a time when life first emerged on Earth. Opportunity was the first rover to identify and characterise sedimentary rocks on a planet other than Earth. Besides small spheres of haematite nicknamed “blueberries” that formed late from rising, acidic groundwater, Opportunity found white veins of gypsum, a telltale sign of water that travelled through underground fractures. It also discovered clay minerals that formed in neutral-pH water.

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Skill, beauty, legacy

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In this navigation camera raw image, one of the most spectacular sent back by Opportunity, the rover looks back at its own tracks on the Martian surface on August 4, 2010. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

SURVIVING: For over 14 years, Opportunity encountered challenges that called for skill and innovation to overcome. It drove in reverse, negotiated loose surfaces, sand traps, and slopes as steep as 31 degrees.

DOCUMENTING: The rovers returned over 342,000 raw images, which were posted online. They also produced 31 stunning 360-degree colour panoramas.

TEACHING: The rovers demonstrated reliable Mars-Earth communication. Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 rovers build upon their lessons. Scientists will make new discoveries for years.

— Source: NASA