NASA's Opportunity Mars Rover is celebrating a new milestone of eleven years on the Red Planet. But in spite of its fortitude, the rover which is only about the size of a riding lawn mower, was originally only designed to explore the Martian surface for about 90 days, along with her twin rover, Spirit.
However, Opportunity has far surpassed the expectations of scientists around the world, as it has continued to function and operate effectively long past its original mission. To celebrate this milestone, Opportunity took time to snap a panoramic image of Cape Tribulation, and now NASA is sharing that with viewers around the world.
Cape Tribulation is the high point on the edge of the Endeavour crater. The spot overlooks the 14-mile wide crater and the surrounding terrain. At over 440 feet above the crater rim, this location is almost 80 percent of the height of the Washington Monument.
And the Opportunity is more than just a rover; it is also a goodwill ambassador for the people of Earth. The aluminum cable guard of the rover's rock abrasion tool is made from material found at Ground Zero of the World Trade Center attacks on September 11, 2011. The team who made the guard worked just a few blocks from the site. An American flag was painted on the cable guard in view of the main camera, and is meant as a memorial to the victims of the attack.
So far this rover has already exceeded scientists' expectations and shows no signs of slowing down. Aside from suffering a few symptoms associated with a vehicle that has aged, the rover continues to go strong and has already been running for 44 times longer than its planned operational lifetime.
To put this into perspective, let's examine a normal automobile on Earth. The average lifespan of a typical car in the United States is about 15 years. In terms of longevity, the Opportunity has been running the equivalent of 660 years and is still going strong.
The only potential issue for the future of the Opportunity is funding. While in the grand scheme of NASA's budget the numbers are relatively small, those funds used keeping an older rover going cannot be spent on developing newer and more advanced rovers to take its place.
NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology located in Pasadena, California manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington.
While NASA continues to make plans for future Mars exploration missions, the team of scientists in charge of Opportunity has plenty to keep them busy. Until the final fate of the Opportunity has been decided, the rover will continue to explore the western edge of the Endeavour crater, beaming back data from the surface of Mars that will continue giving scientists here on Earth plenty to do.