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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.

NASA
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.

NASA
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)

Next Story

NASA Making a ‘Rigorous’ Search for Vikram with Fresh Lunar Pictures

LRO will next fly around the region on November 10 and it will be another good opportunity with favourable lighting conditions for pictures, Petro said

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NASA also plans to build a space outpost in lunar orbit that can relay astronauts to the lunar surface by 2024. VOA

BY ARUL LOUIS

NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) has taken a fresh set of pictures under better lighting conditions of the area where the Indian moon lander Vikram likely ended up and experts will be making a rigorous search for it, according to LRO Project Scientist Noah Petro.

“The lighting conditions on Monday were much more favourable, (with) less shadow in the region” compared to last month, Petro told IANS on Wednesday.

Scientists were not able to locate the Vikram in the pictures taken during the LRO’s last flyover on September 17, when it was dusk on the moon and the long shadows that covered much of the terrain may be hidden in it, NASA said at that time.

“We flew over the landing site on Monday and the camera team is still evaluating images, so we should know more in the next few days,” Noah said.

Chandrayaan 2, India, Moon
Chandrayaan-2, India’s ambitious expedition to the moon’s south pole, made headlines globally even as Vikram, the lander of the mission, lost contact with the orbiter. Pixabay

“We will do a careful search, we will be as rigorous as possible” and “we will find out soon” what happened to the Vikram moon lander, said Petro, who is based at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland near Washington.

“This is a large area, we don’t know exactly where we have to look. So it will take some time to search the images because we are looking over a very, very large area,” he added.

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Vikram lost contact with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) following its launch from Chandraayan 2 moon orbiter on September 6 and likely landed in an area around the moon’s South Pole.

LRO will next fly around the region on November 10 and it will be another good opportunity with favourable lighting conditions for pictures, Petro said. (IANS)