When Opportunity landed in 2004, MySpace was the dominant social network, phones were not smart, and a little-known state politician from Illinois named Barack Obama was running for Senate. Much has changed in the intervening years, but Opportunity has soldiered on, exploring far beyond her original mission parameters and returning vast quantities of scientific data.
Opportunity has been roving Mars for a third of my life, and for much of that time I took her for granted. It wasn't until I started working for The Planetary Society that I truly understood that we're experiencing a golden age of Mars exploration never seen before in human history. It's not something that just happens; it takes the focused efforts of thousands of people, smart policy choices, supportive politicians, and most of all a supportive public.
I recommend taking a minute today to reflect on the fact that humanity has maintained a continuous robotic presence on another planet for a decade—not to seek profit, not for war or territoriality, but solely for the peaceful pursuit of knowledge.
The Planetary Society released an official statement congratulating NASA and the MER team for this unprecedented achievement:
PASADENA, CA - The Planetary Society congratulates NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and the scientific team led by Dr. Steve Squyres for the unprecedented success of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity achieving 10 years of continuous operations on Mars.
“Imagine a car with a 3-year warranty lasting 120 years instead!” said Bill Nye, CEO of The Planetary Society. “Think of all the places you’d go and things you’d see. In a way, this is what the Opportunity rover team has accomplished. We make discoveries virtually every day—every sol—on Mars. This kind of mission is what NASA does best. Opportunity will continue to help us explore and discover as we search for clues to the geologic history of Mars and our own Earth. Here’s wishing the team a continued safe journey and the joy of discovery.”
Since its landing on January 25, 2004, Opportunity has endured global dust storms, sand traps, frigid martian winters, and three Presidential elections without a tune up, tweak, or pitstop. She and her twin, Spirit, have trekked for miles beyond their original design parameters and discovered evidence that Mars was once soaked with water. The science and engineering return from both rovers is incalculable, and all for the cost of about 35¢ per American per year.
The success of Opportunity is a testament to the unparalleled engineering prowess of the nation’s space program and the result of a consistent, focused effort of Mars exploration. The many lessons learned from Opportunity’s 10-year traverse informed the construction and operations of the latest rover, Curiosity, which in turn will inform the upcoming 2020 Mars rover now in development.
For millennia the mysteries of Mars haunted the minds of human beings. The MER rovers Spirit and Opportunity helped solve some of these mysteries, but they uncovered many more along the way. Mars remains a tantalizing destination, rich with potential for scientific discovery and adventure. The successful exploration of our planetary neighbor is one of the finest achievements of the human species; The Planetary Society congratulates the hard-working, committed people that pursue this noble endeavor.
The Planetary Society is celebrating this milestone all month with:
A Virtual Rover Party: celebrate at home with games, trivia, and rover history
Ten years of MER Updates: the full archive of our monthly series covering the history of both rovers in exquisite detail, begun by journalist A.J.S. Rayl when Spirit landed in 2004:
Planetary Radio Live: a special 1 ½ hour live taping and webcast at Southern California Public Radio featuring MER Principal Investigator Dr. Steve Squyres and Pancam PI Dr. Jim Bell on video, and MSL Curiosity Project Scientist Dr. John Grotzinger and Planetary Society CEO Bill Nye on stage. Thursday, January 23rd at 7:00pm PST.
A look back at The Planetary Society’s unique role with MER, including the MarsDial, the DVD carrying 4 million names, and the student “astronaut” program that gave 16 students the chance to work in mission operations during the first few weeks of the MER mission.
A collective birthday card - send a congratulatory message to the MER team.