What were you doing on January, 25, 2004? You might have been dancing to “Hey Ya!” by OutKast at some point that day, which was the number 1 song in America. You might have been thinking about seeing the third Lord of the Rings movie, The Return of the King, which would go on to win an Oscar for Best Picture a few weeks later. Whatever you were doing, it might feel like ages ago.
January 25, 2004 was also the first day that NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover landed on the red planet, some 5,137 Earth days ago.
Today, February 17, 2018 marks the 5,000 Sols, or Martian days, since Opportunity landed on the red planet. The sun has risen 5,000 times on the trusty Opportunity rover, the NASA robot that inspired WALL·E, the 2008 Pixar movie.
It’s a phenomenal achievement for the golf cart-sized robotic rover that long ago surpassed its 90-day mission requirements.
“We’ve reached lots of milestones, and this is one more,” said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, of the achievement. “But more important than the numbers are the exploration and the scientific discoveries.”
- It has traveled more than 28 miles on Mars, the longest off-world distance.
- As a geological robot, it has collected data that hints at water on ancient Mars.
- The small memorial to the Challenger crew on Mars was created by Opportunity.
- It has sent back to Earth 225,000 images, which are browsable on the NASA website.
- It has worked 55 times longer than its original lifespan.
Opportunity is sort of the Cal Ripken, Jr. of Martian exploration, the American baseball player who played 2,632 consecutive games between 1982 and 1995.
However, its twin rover, Spirit, didn’t fare so well. That rover landed on Mars three weeks before Opportunity on the other side of the planet. While Spirit also surpassed its 90-sol mission, it got stuck in 2009 and ceased communications with Earth in 2010.
Now 14 years later, NASA’s personification of Opportunity has resulted in marketing the little rover as a self-involved teen. Its cameras, pointed back at it instead of the Martian world in front of it, snapped photos that resulted in this “selfie”: