Mars Opportunity rover marks 10th birthday on the road to new driving record

Scott Sutherland

Somewhere on a barren, desolate planet, a small lonely robot, the last of its kind still in operation, continues along doing its work, and whereas this sounds like a recap of a Disney movie plot, it's actually happening right now on the planet Mars.

It was exactly 10 years ago today, on July 7th, 2003, that Opportunity rocketed into space, headed on six-month journey to Mars and then what has turned out to be an over 9-year-long mission on the Red Planet. The rover followed its twin, Spirit, which had launched roughly a month earlier and arrived on Mars three weeks before Opportunity got there. However, after all this time, it's Opportunity that's still going, and like the plucky little Disney robot, it's been racking up an impressive collection over the years — not of trinkets, though, but of important scientific discoveries.

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Although the larger, nuclear-powered Curiosity rover has taken over more of the headlines from Mars since it touched down less than a year ago, Opportunity is still going strong and making great contributions to the exploration of Mars.

Since the rover relies on solar power, and the amount of power it gets is dependent on the angle of the Sun in the sky, the upcoming Martian winter poses a problem. To keep the rover properly charged for its winter 'hibernation', the science team is driving it to a nearby hill called Solander Point. There, the rover can park on the slopes, giving its solar panels a better angle to gather sunlight while it waits for spring.

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