One Small Step for Oppy, One Giant Leap for Rover-Kind


When Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, it was only expected to stay for 90 sols, equal to 92.5 Earth days. But the rover, who was more affectionately known as Oppy, surprised everyone and remained on the planet for 5,352 sols, equal to 5,498 Earth days or 15 Earth years.

Oppy was sent to Mars with its twin, Spirit, with three objectives: to determine if there is potential for life on Mars, to investigate if water may be found there; to characterise the planet’s climate and geology; and to prepare for a potential human mission to Mars. This was one huge job for two tiny rovers, but they certainly lived up to expectations as Oppy was considered one of NASA’s most successful ventures. During its time on the red planet, it had a plethora of achievements; including travelling the distance of a marathon (42.2km) between 2004 and 2015 – the longest off-world distance ever travelled – and reaching the Endeavour crater in 2011.

However, despite the unexpected success of this tiny rover, it was sadly not to last. In June 2018, a dust storm resulted in Oppy’s hibernation and it ceased to respond to any communication. There was hope that Oppy would reboot once the storm passed, or that winds would remove any dust from its solar panels, but this was not to be the case. After 8 Martian years of work, NASA had to declare in February 2019 that the mission was over. The rover had failed to respond to over 1,000 signals sent since the previous August.

The number of commands sent to Oppy in the hope of a response goes to show just how important the mission was. The final data sent to Oppy was Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You”, and it is clear the rover meant a lot to those working at NASA. Even now, people still send their messages of love and gratitude to Oppy through postcards on NASAs website. It is clear that the tiny rover was loved by many and we can only thank it for the opportunity it has given us and its contribution to research. Thank you, Oppy. You have done well and you may rest easy.

[Eleanor Fletcher – @eleanorlf_]

[Image credit: NASA]

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