Listen, NASA. We love you, but you're setting an impossible precedent here. Opportunity, one of a pair of rovers sent to Mars in 2003, landed at Meridiani Planum nine years ago last week. Nine years ago. The warranty on this robot? A mere 90 days. You do the math on how amazing that is.
Oh alright, we'll do the math for you: that's about 3,200 days, or over 36 times longer than Opportunity was promised to last. Imagine buying a car with a five year warranty that instead keeps on running for 180 years. And now imagine that it keeps running for 180 years with zero maintenance. Seriously, NASA is making the rest of the world look like a bunch of amateurs, because this incredible robot is still going and still doing valuable science. Curiosity may be bigger and fancier and laserier, but it's got some giant wheels to fill.
So what's Opportunity been up to? The picture up at the top of this article shows where the robot is currently hanging out: a place called Matijevic Hill on the western rim of Endeavour Crater, some 22 miles from where Oppy touched down. Clay minerals have been detected in this area from orbit, suggesting that water may have modified the rocks, so Opportunity will be checking the place out down on the ground.
As for what's next, well, at some point this little robot is going to stop working. It's already got some quirks- nothing serious, but still, it's closing in on a decade of non-stop operation. We've said this before, but we'll say it again: every day that Opportunity keeps on doing science on Mars, it should be headline news, and it's unfortunate that NASA is often recognized for success and failure in equal measure. Really, the fact that we've got robots on Mars right now is something that is, or should be, a continual source of wonder for every single human on Earth. As a species, we're taking the first tentative steps towards exploring and understanding our solar system, and these robots are leading the way. There will certainly be more, probably lots more, but Opportunity will always be among the first, and it's already made itself into a legend.
Via [ NASA ]
PS- Sorry for going all, you know, at the end there, but I really <3 these robots.
Evan Ackerman is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Since 2007, he has written over 6,000 articles on robotics and technology. He has a degree in Martian geology and is excellent at playing bagpipes.