NASA’s rover Opportunity landed on the red planet on January 25, 2004, to explore the area of Meridiani Planum. Seven years later, it is still working, with 26.7 kilometers on the clock. It is getting closer to its destination, a 22 kilometers wide crater, now about 6 kilometers away.
Originally designed to last 3 months and stride 800 meters, its achievements are true records. Opportunity has already covered the longest distance on another planet, but it is still behind Lunokhod 2, which covered more than 37 kilometers on the Moon’s surface in 1973.
Stop at the Endurance crater
Opportunity landed on January 25, 2004 in a small basin, 730 meters away from the impact crater Endurance. With a 200 meters diameter, the crater was of great geological interest and was the first destination for the rover. It reached it on May 3, 2004 and discovered various layers in the bedrock, made visible by the impact. Opportunity spent the rest of the year 2004 exploring Endurance.
Heading south to Victoria
In January 2005, after crossing its thermal shield (ejected just before landing, a year earlier), the rover headed south to another bigger crater: Victoria. It is 750 meters in diameter, but 5.6 kilometers away.
Thanks to its robustness, Opportunity kept going, sometimes covering 120 meters a day. Unfortunately, the rover got stuck in the sand of a dune, too high. It stayed there for several weeks. On June 21, 2005, it finally escaped the sand and went back on its way. It reached the west rim of the crater on September 2006; as with Endurance, the rover went inside the crater.
A crazy objective: the Endeavour crater
The team operating the rover at JPL ,confident, decided in September 2008, to send it through the desert and dune fields of Meridiani Planum, to the Endeavour crater, located 11 kilometers away.
The crater is 22 kilometers in diameter, and should reveal deeper layers than the previous ones.
Meteorites and craters again
Since 2004, Opportunity has discovered four iron meteorites.
On November 22, 2010, halfway to its incredible journey to Endeavour, it crosses a little crater covered by sand, Yankee Clipper.
Since December 17, 2010, it is next to the Santa Maria crater, 80 meters in diameter. The Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter probe even took a picture. Opportunity has six more kilometers to go, and it will finally reach its destination…
Seven years on a video
The team in charge of the mission created a video, summing up these seven years: