A NASA rover celebrated 12 years on Mars this week. What is extremely interesting and makes for an event is that the rover was supposed to operate only for 90 days.
Even to this day, NASA’s rover called Mars Opportunity gives information and is operational. This is possible because of some software changes that occurred over time and due to some surprising surface conditions. The rover entered the atmosphere of Mars after traveling for six and a half months from Earth. Opportunity landed safely in January 2004 on the red planet with the help of a parachute, a cocoon of airbags and some retrorockets.
The people who developed the rover expected it to function only for approximately 90 days because on Mars there are extremely high dust levels. The scientist predicted that the dust will cover the rover’s solar panels and thus the rover will not be able to receive power any longer. Mars is placed 50% farther from the Sun than the Earth is and receiving solar power would have been almost impossible even without the dust issues. For this, the developers of Opportunity designed extremely large solar panels in order to be able to collect as much sunlight as possible. Even with those features, the rover didn’t have a long life expectancy.
But then something that surprised the scientist happened. Once in a while, columns of air would clean the dust coat from the solar panels. The dust devils helped the rover collect the sun it needed to function. But other issues appeared in the course of the years. In the first year on Mars, the rover got stuck in a sand dune. Over the years, the rover got updated. Its photography skills , visual detection, hazard detection and other softwares were improved.
Sending a rover on the red planet is very expensive, so it’s a good thing that Opportunity lasted for such a long period of time. In order to build and get the rover on Mars, NASA spent $400 million. Even though the rover proved to be a great investment for NASA, some people believe that the rover should be shut down. This is mainly because it is not as efficient as it once was and also it costs NASA $14 million each year to ensure it still works. Among these problems is the fact that sometimes the rover has problems with the flash memory, its joints sometimes lock up and some of its instruments are not working anymore.
The NASA rover that celebrated 12 years on Mars managed to examine some large craters that helped discover some of the planet’s history, it helped the scientists understand the role of water in the past and has traveled the longest distance among planets.
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