Opportunity Rover Celebrates 14 Years on the Red Planet

When it was designed, it was supposed to be operational for 90 days. It landed in the Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, as a tool for scientists and astronomers to gain further insight into the mysteries of Mars. Now, 14 years later, what is probably humanity's best built machine keeps going: the Opportunity Rover.
NASA Opportunity Rover 6 photos
Photo: NASA
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As a gift for the anniversary, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) sent it the latest version of flight software on January 23, 2018. Earlier in the month, the Rover was also benefited from dust cleaning of its solar arrays.

The age of the machine is beginning to take its toll, however. When NASA executed a test of the Zero Degree Heater (ZDH) on the rover’s batteries, it found there are showing signs of aging. The Rover draws its power from solar arrays, which generate 140 watts. It is also equipped with two rechargeable lithium ion batteries, to be used during the Martian night.

“Opportunity’s batteries have performed very well over the mission’s lifetime but are showing some signs of aging. Martian environment is quite cold and it was suspected that warming the battery during the recharge process may make the battery both more effective and degrade slower,” NASA said in a statement.

The Opportunity had a brother on planet Mars, the Spirit. It too managed to long-outlive its expected mission, but NASA lost contact with it in 2011.

The Mars Rovers are six-wheeler, solar powered vehicles. They weigh 180 kg and stand at 1.5 m high, 2.3 m wide and 1.6 m long. The rocker-bogie suspension system allows each of the rover's wheels to remain attached to the ground, regardless of the type of terrain.

Top speed of the vehicles is 50 mm/second (0.18 km/h), making them the single slowest, most expensive self-propelled vehicles ever made by man. In the 14 years it has spent on Mars, Opportunity traveled 45 kilometers (28 miles). That's 3.2 km per year, or nearly two miles.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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