12th March 2019

British Science Week 2019 has coincided quite closely with the termination of NASA’s Opportunity Rover’s 15-year mission. Since it is a fantastic week for celebrating recent and upcoming developments in science, we thought it fitting to celebrate one of the biggest in recent months.

 

After making almost a thousand unanswered commands and recovery messages NASA bid a fond farewell to their beloved “Oppy” in February 2019 sending a final farewell message of Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You”. In awe of this amazing feat, we are celebrating all the times “Oppy” amazed and enlightened us. Ultimately, Oppy helped us develop a deeper understanding of the science of our solar system, and while we can’t quite answer David Bowie’s burning questions just yet, “she” has contributed to the ongoing discoveries of our universe.

 

 

Mars on Film

Amongst “surviving Mars’ treacherous terrain”, “Oppy” can include Photography to her list of skills and achievements. Over her 15-year mission, she provided us with truly breath-taking and awe-inspiring images of Mars. Given that humans are yet to reach Mars, it has been mind-blowing to see images of the planet’s surface and climate snapped by Oppy and her twin Spirit. The two rovers snapped a combined total of 342,000 images over the course of their missions, which have dramatically changed, enhanced and furthered our understanding of Mars, and its thumbprint in the wider scale of our solar system and universe. Multiple images and panoramic shots have allowed scientists on Earth to stitch together large portions of the planet, grasping a better understanding of its vast dusty terrain, craters and caves.

 

Resiliency and spirit

We know…it almost seems nonsensical to relate too and celebrate the “spirit” of a machine, but how could we not! It’s safe to say we were all a little emotionally attached to Oppy, and when news broke of her last emotional message home hearts shattered in unison across the globe. Over the 15 years spent roaming Mars she encountered numerous hurdles but her team on Earth implemented solutions to help her overcome these and she lasted a whopping 15 years, despite being built to last 90 days! For the little rover who was built to last 90 days, she endured two “sand traps” while exploring craters on Mars, as well as a dust storm in 2007 which blocked sunlight from reaching her solar panels. Unfortunately, the dust storm in 2018 irreversibly damaged her solar panels and she made her final communications around June 2018.

 

Discoveries

In many ways, Oppy surpassed everyone’s expectations and gave us much, much more than we ever could have imagined. In 2005, she cemented herself as a galactic explorer and wowed us all by photographing a meteorite on the surface of Mars. This was the first meteorite to be discovered and documented on another planet. Since then she has discovered evidence that indicates the presence of liquids on Mars, photographed a Martian crater and stumbled across clay minerals, further supporting the idea of water being present on Mars. There is no doubt that she has provided us with ample opportunities to further explore and understand this fascinating planet.


Achievements

Alongside her amazing discoveries and eye-opening insights on the planet, NASA reported all Oppy’s endearing achievements during her mission. We’ll admit she broke no speed records, but in 2015 she successfully completed a marathon. OK, not literally, but she travelled the equivalent distance, 26.2 miles, and we’re proud of her 11-year personal best, nonetheless. She also has a world record under her belt for “longest drive on another world” and was programmed to “sing” happy birthday to herself on the 5th of August every year.
It is certain that Opportunity and this 15-year mission has cemented her legacy in the scientific hall of fame. Multiplying her lifespan by 60 and giving us over a decade of exploration, discovery and opportunity. Allowing humanity to understand life on one of our closest galactic neighbours, way ahead of our ability to take humans there. A teacher on wheels, she has lead innovation and development into similar missions and the development of NASA’s Mars program, ensuring that future rovers have strong tracks to follow. Truly, the “Opportunity” of our lifetime, on behalf of all humankind Thank you, Oppy!

“I'll be looking at the moon, but I'll be seeing you” – Billie Holiday

 

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