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Know How NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover Enriched Space Science

The rover discovered the first meteorite on Mars, sitting near its own heat shield and was the first to identify and characterise sedimentary rocks on a planet other than Earth."

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The fifteen years that Opportunity spent on the Red Planet had been full of challenges that required its engineers to be resourceful. Pixabay

Designed to last just 90 days and travel 1,000 metres on Martian landscape, NASA’s Opportunity rover outlived its mission lifetime by more than 14 years to become the longest lasting robot sent from Earth and the first wheeled vehicle off Earth to log a drive distance of over 45 kms.

Before its mission came to an end on Wednesday, the solar-powered and golf cart-sized rover that landed on Mars in January 2004 spent 15 years exploring details about Martian landscapes and confirmed that the Red planet once had abundant surface water and its conditions may have been habitable for some period of time in Martian history.

The rover discovered the first meteorite on Mars, sitting near its own heat shield and was the first to identify and characterise sedimentary rocks on a planet other than Earth.

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NASA’s Opportunity rover also found round, bluish stones that contained the minerals hematite and jarosite, which only form when rocks are exposed to acidic water. Pixabay

“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes,” Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement.

The Opportunity rover was launched alongside Spirit as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration mission. While Spirit landed at Gusev Crater on January 4, 2004, Opportunity landed on the opposite side of Mars at Meridiani Planum on January 24, 2004. Spirit logged about eight kms before its mission came to an end nine years ago.

NASA’s Opportunity rover also found round, bluish stones that contained the minerals hematite and jarosite, which only form when rocks are exposed to acidic water.

The rover also exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis.

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For instance, the rover’s right-front wheel sometimes drew more current than the other wheels, so engineers often drove the rover backward to extend the right front wheel’s life. Pixabay

It returned more than 217,000 images, including fifteen 360-degree colour panoramas.

The fifteen years that Opportunity spent on the Red Planet had been full of challenges that required its engineers to be resourceful.

For instance, the rover’s right-front wheel sometimes drew more current than the other wheels, so engineers often drove the rover backward to extend the right front wheel’s life.

Since the terrain was treacherous, its wheels slipped on the loose slopes when it first attempted to drive out of Eagle Crater.

Again on April 26, 2005, Opportunity’s wheels dug into a soft, wind-sculpted sand ripple and got stuck for several nail-biting weeks at “Purgatory Dune.”

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The rover also encountered two mission-threatening dust storms that blocked sunlight from reaching its solar panels. It survived a dust storm in 2007 by minimising activities and maintaining enough power in its batteries to recover when the skies cleared.

Unfortunately, the 2018 dust storm that it encountered blotted out even more sunlight and kept the skies above Opportunity dark about a month longer.

The rover last communicated with Earth on June 10, 2018. It has not been heard from for eight months since then.

NASA, which is planning to send humans to the Red Planet sometime in the future, will send the next Mars rover in 2020 to continue seeking the signs of life on Mars. (IANS)

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NASA: Sending Back Astronauts to Moon in 2024 Could Cost About $30 Billion

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars

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NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo's twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024. VOA

Returning astronauts to the moon in 2024 could cost about $30 billion, or roughly the same price tag as the Apollo 11 spaceflight when factoring in inflation, NASA has said.

“For the whole programme, to get a sustainable presence on the moon, we’re looking at between $20 and $30 billion,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a TV interview on Friday, though noting that that figure does not include money already spent on the rocket and space capsule the agency plans to use for the programme, Efe news reported.

The total cost of the Apollo programme that the US launched in 1961 and concluded in 1972 was $25 billion. The climax of that programme came nearly 50 years ago when two astronauts landed on the moon as part of the Apollo 11 mission, which cost $6 billion at the time, equivalent to $30 billion today.

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Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024. Pixabay

NASA, which has dubbed its current lunar programme Artemis (after Apollo’s twin sister, the Greek goddess of the hunt, the wilderness and the moon), plans to send one male and one female astronaut to the moon in 2024.

Bridenstine recalled that the main difference between the Apollo programme and the Artemis program is that the former culminated with brief stays on the moon while the latter will entail a permanent human presence there.

The plan will involve the recruitment of private companies and international partners, the construction of a lunar space station and manned landings at the moon’s south pole within five years.

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That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin. VOA

The entire project will be framed as a practice run for a future mission to Mars. The programme includes an unmanned mission around the moon in 2020 and a manned mission that also will orbit the moon two years later. Then one male astronaut and – for the first time – a female astronaut would set foot on the lunar surface in 2024.

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The three lunar missions will be delivered into space by the Space Launch System, a rocket being developed by NASA and Boeing that will be the largest ever built once it is fully assembled. That rocket will send into orbit a new spacecraft known as Orion, whose lead contractor is Lockheed Martin.

Besides these missions exclusively handled by NASA, five other launches will be carried out to place in lunar orbit the components for construction of the Gateway mini-space station, which will serve as a staging post for moon landings. Those five missions between 2022 and 2024 will be operated by private companies, according to NASA’s plans. (IANS)