Opportunity Rover Fires Up Engines, Starts Another Year Exploring Mars

Oppy survives another Martian winter and is ready to get back to doing science

2 min read

Evan Ackerman is IEEE Spectrum’s robotics editor.

Opportunity Rover Fires Up Engines, Starts Another Year Exploring Mars

This picture shows the spot that the Opportunity Mars rover has been sitting on for the last 19 weeks doing its level best to try not to starve to death from lack of solar power. Or I guess, unlevel best, since she was stuck on that little outcropping (called Greely Haven) to keep her solar panels oriented more directly at the sun. But now, the sun is high enough in the sky for Oppy to get her roll on, and she snapped this pic looking backwards after a 3-meter drive into unexplored terrain.

It's a shame that Opportunity doesn't make the news every single day for the fact that she's still wandering around on Mars and doing science. I mean, the robot landed in 2004. I barely remember 2004. Her original mission was slated to last 90 days, but she's gone beyond that by over 2,800 days. Besides dust collecting on the rover's solar panels, the only issue Opportunity has really had is a misbehaving shoulder joint, which necessitates driving with her arm deployed. Not bad for a total distance driven of nearly 35 kilometers.

An orbital view of Opportunity's current location on Mars; click here for a version you can actually see.

In the short term, Oppy will make sure that she's getting enough solar power to keep driving and doing science: her winter spot on the outcropping kept her tilted 15 degrees northward towards the sun, and after this drive, she's only tilted eight degrees. If everything looks good, the rover will travel another few meters towards a bright looking patch of dust to investigate, and beyond that Endeavour craters has plenty of good spots to check out, including some ancient clays spotted from orbit that could provide more clues about Mars' watery past.

And of course, we can't forget NASA's new, bigger, and more capable rover, Curiosity, currently en route en space and scheduled to land on Mars in August. That'll be huge, but we'll be sure not to ignore Oppy after Curiosity lands: it's going to be tough for the new rover to live up to the expectations set by it's predecessors.

[ NASA JPL press release ]

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