While we have been getting most of our daily images of Mars from NASA’s Curiosity rover over the past couple of years, we shouldn’t forget that there’s still another rover keeping busy on the Red Planet: Opportunity, one of the twin Mars Exploration Rovers (MER-B), still exploring after 11 years!
To commemorate Opportunity’s upcoming landing anniversary on January 25, the MER team has released a panorama taken from the rover’s vantage point atop “Cape Tribulation,” part of the rim of the 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. Made of multiple images acquired on Jan. 6, 2015 – mission sol 3,894! – with the rover’s Pancam instrument (that is, its “eyes”) the image is presented in approximate true-color of what the scene would look like if we were standing there.
See the full panorama image below:
(Click for a high-res version.)
The full panorama covers a view from west-northwest at left to southward at right. Also on the right you can see the U.S. flag printed on the aluminum cable guard of the rover’s rock abrasion tool (RAT). That flag is a small off-world memorial to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City; workers at Honeybee Robotics in lower Manhattan, less than a mile from the Twin Towers, were making the rock abrasion tool for Opportunity and its twin Spirit when the tragedy occurred and decided to incorporate metal from the site into the shielding. Read more about that here.
Since its landing Opportunity has driven 25.97 miles (41.8 kilometers) on Mars – farther than any other off-Earth surface vehicle has driven. That’s an incredible feat considering that Opportunity’s mission was initially planned for three months! During its prime mission and for more than a decade of additional exploration across extended missions, Opportunity has returned compelling evidence about wet environments on ancient Mars.
“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas from JPL (July 2014). “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”
Opportunity’s sister rover Spirit fell silent after getting stuck in loose surface material in 2009 and ceased communication in March 2010. Since that time Opportunity has continued on, and has to this day traversed more then five times the distance covered by Spirit.
For a look back (a “throwback” as the kids say these days) this was Opportunity’s very first Pancam mosaic from the surface of Mars, taken from the small 65-foot (20 meter) crater in which the rover “hole-in-one” landed:
Happy Anniversary Opportunity – may you continue to rove on for many more years to come!