After a 15-year mission the lonely journey of NASA’s rover, Opportunity, has come to a close.
Back in January of 2004, NASA dispersed two rovers to Mars in order to gather data that would offer a glimpse into the mysterious Red Planet. The two rovers were named (and rightfully so) Spirit and Opportunity. At this time, it was widely accepted that Mars was a completely dry planet with no perceivable signs of water with the exception of it’s polar ice caps. The arrival of Spirit and Opportunity offered a surprising plot twist to the scientific community, however. After their fateful landing upon the foreign, untouched face of Mars the two rovers uncovered past evidence of water. As though this weren’t a big enough contradiction to a widely accepted fact (a fact which proved false) there was a second… and a then a third…. finding supporting the presence of water on Mars.
Where There’s Water, There’s Life
In 2013, Opportunity paid a visit to the Endeavour crater and found something incredible. An outcrop known as Esperance provided support to the idea that life may in fact exist on other planets. Within Esperance were clay minerals rich in aluminum- minerals of which could only have been produced by water neutral enough to sustain a form of life. Upon this discovery by Opportunity, the possibility of an ideal environment for microbes to flourish supported by water emerged. To add to that, this water could even be considered drinkable. This was accompanied by the discovery of minerals which could only be produced in some form of salt water. But again, these weren’t the only findings by the rovers. The rovers also provided images of fractures in the bedrock resembling underground piping. With this, another possible sanctuary for life was offered. Truly mind-blowing stuff.
Opportunity: A Story of Resilience
Time for another mind-blowing fact. When Spirit and Opportunity touched down way back in 2004, NASA was holding it’s breath that the little rovers would survive even just 90 days. Never under-estimate Opportunity.
Unfortunately the majority of Opportunity’s great journey was a solitary one. Spirit accompanied it’s sibling on the Red Planet for six years before befalling the end of it’s own journey when Spirit became entrapped in sand. Being as the rovers are both powered through solar energy, Spirit’s ability to recharge became obstructed by the angle in which it had become stuck in the sand trap.
Opportunity miraculously carried on well into the 15th year of it’s residence on Mars. It carried on faithfully, providing our little blue planet with data that brought Mars to life. Opportunity lent us it’s eyes and we viewed a world both vastly different from our own and yet similar in ways we never imagined.
June of last year brought a storm that would overtake Opportunity resulting in the eventual fate of the rover. Dense dust enveloped the body of Opportunity and as a result, the solar panels vital to the rover ceased to function. On June 10th the resilient Opportunity sent it’s final signal to us like a dying man’s last words. Ever since this cease in communication NASA has performed desperate attempts at revitalization in the form of a whopping 600 calls to Opportunity only to met with silence. Finally, NASA made it’s final update on the status of the Opportunity rover. The Opportunity has been lost.
What a Ride It Was
Opportunity’s legacy is, in my opinion, best described by those that worked with it directly.
As Scott Maxwell, an American engineer and former rover operator with NASA expressed, “Opportunity gave us an entirely new view of what the world must have been like.” The rovers were, in some sense, endearing explorers that you couldn’t help but love. At the very same time, you couldn’t help but be in awe of the information they graced us with. “We cared for them and watched over them and shepherded them through so much, and in return they gave us an entire planet,” Maxwell adds.
Opportunity roamed the surface of a planet yet to be stepped upon by a single human being. The longevity and resilience it demonstrated cannot be understated. Opportunity was a marvel of human engineering that held fast against unspeakable odds. In the most unsure conditions it performed more efficiently than we could have imagined. All that’s left to do now is say goodbye and well done.
“What makes the desert beautiful,’ said the little prince, ‘is that somewhere it hides a well…”
― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince