Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Three days ago, on 2/13/19, NASA declared the Opportunity Mars rover mission to be over. They had not heard from it since June, and all efforts to revive it for one more trip were futile.

It landed on Mars in 2004. In a bit of cosmic luck, it landed, bounced, and rolled /dead center/ into a small crater that was later named Eagle Crater. The Mars Orbital Surveyor actually took pictures of the lander in the crater, the heat shield impact site, the first bounce, and the parachute lying on the Martian surface! Later, it photographed the tracks the rover was making. That is just mind-blowing to me.

It was intended to last for 90 sols. A sol is a solar day on Mars: 24 hours, 39 minutes, 35.255 seconds. That’s about 93 Earth days. Anything beyond that was gravy.

It went silent after 5,250 sols.

For fourteen years the little rover inched its way across the barren Martian surface, taking samples and pictures. It traveled a total distance of 28 miles. That may not sound like much, but remember it had to creep slowly, because it takes an average of 6 minutes for a TV signal to travel from Opportunity to JPL, and 6 minutes for steering commands to get from JPL to Mars. If you go fast you could easily drive over a cliff, and we wouldn’t know about it for 6 minutes.

I had always hoped that I would never feel ho-hum about space exploration, but of course unless you work in the field, it’s pretty much impossible. For instance, I have no idea who is currently living and working in the International Space Station. But when I think about it … living in space! What we dreamed of back in the ’50s when Heinlein was writing his “juvenile” novels that got so many of us interested in such a thing.

So I thought it would be nice to look back at Opportunity’s accomplishments. And I was amazed.

Where else would you go, but Wikipedia? There is an extensive timeline there.

This is way too much information for me, but I didn’t have to read it all. Just scroll down the long, long list of places it went and pictures it took. Mars looks to be barren, though we haven’t visited the poles yet. Opportunity did prove that there is water on Mars.

28 miles. Imagine that you are a Martian and have landed your space probe on Earth. It travels northwest from Rapid City, South Dakota, to Sturgis. That’s about how far Opportunity crawled. Now you know all about the planet. But if you had gone southwest, you would have seen Mount Rushmore. We have learned so much, and we still have so much left to learn.

February 16, 2019
Vancouver, WA