Curiosity recently found signs of an ancient nitrogen cycle on Mars, overshadowing its robotic brother. However Opportunity, which landed on Mars in January 2004, has just become the first robot to complete an extraterrestrial marathon. NASA confirmed that the six-wheeler has traveled more than 26.219 miles in 11 years and two months, writes James Vincent for The Verge.
Exceeding NASA’s expectations
Opportunity has enjoyed a far longer life than expected, and this latest achievement is truly remarkable. “This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” said Opportunity’s project manager John Callas. “A first time happens only once.”
The rover was expected to operate for just 90 Martian days, which are 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, meaning that it has extended its life-span by more than 10 years. During that time, Opportunity has made various discoveries, becoming the first rover to examine a meteorite found on another planet, as well as finding evidence that water once existed on the surface of Mars.
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Dr Steve Squyres, Opportunity principal investigator for NASA at Cornell University, said: “This mission isn’t about setting distance records, of course; it’s about making scientific discoveries on Mars and inspiring future explorers to achieve even more. Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”
All good things come to an end
After a long, heroic journey it appears that NASA’s Opportunity may finally be reaching the end of its life. NASA reports that the rover is suffering from the gradual decay inherent in all computer systems, including problems with its flash memory due to a series of writes and re-writes. Opportunity landed on Mars with a twin NASA rover named Spirit, which stopped moving in 2010, becoming a “static research station.”
“[Opportunity] has been amazingly healthy considering how much we’ve used it — we thought the mobility system would have worn out a long ago but it’s in great health,” said Callas last December. “But anything could fail at any moment… It’s like you have an aging parent, that is otherwise in good health — maybe they go for a little jog every day, play tennis each day — but you never know, they could have a massive stroke right in the middle of the night. So we’re always cautious that something could happen.”