Known unknown facts about NASA Opportunity Rover

by | Facts |

Known unknown facts about NASA Opportunity Rover

Opportunity is a robotic rover that was active on Mars from 2004 to 2018. Launched on July 7, 2003, as part of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover program, it landed in Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, three weeks after its twin Spirit (MER-A) touched down on the other side of the planet.

It is also known as MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover – B) or MER-1, and nicknamed 'Oppy'.

With a planned 90-sol duration of activity, slightly more than 90 earth days, Spirit functioned until getting stuck in 2009 and ceased communications in 2010, while Opportunity was able to stay operational for 5353 sols after landing, maintaining its power and key systems through continual recharging of its batteries through solar power, and hibernating during events such as dust storms to save power.

This careful operation allowed Opportunity to exceed its operating plan by 14 years, 295 days (in Earth Time), 55 times its designed lifespan.

By June 10, 2018, when it last contacted NASA, the rover had traveled a distance of 45.16 kilometers (28.06 miles).

The Opportunity mission is considered one of NASA's most successful ventures.

On February 13, 2019, NASA officials declared that the Opportunity mission was complete after the spacecraft failed to respond to repeated signals sent since August 2018.

So, here are some other lesser-known facts that you should know about the mission 'Opportunity Rover'.

  • Opportunity's launch was managed by NASA's Launch Services Program.

  • This was the first launch of the Delta II Heavy.

  • The launch period went from June 25 to July 15, 2003.

  • The first launch attempt occurred on June 28, 2003, but the spacecraft launched nine days later on July 7, 2003, due to delays for range safety and winds, then later to replace items on the rocket (insulation and a battery). Each day had two instantaneous launch opportunities.

  • On the day of launch, the launch was delayed to the second opportunity (11:18 p.m. EDT) in order to fix a valve.

  • Spirit and Opportunity are twin rovers, each a six-wheeled, solar-powered robot standing 1.5 meters (4.9 ft) high, 2.3 meters (7.5 ft) wide, and 1.6 meters (5.2 ft) long and weighing 180 kilograms (400 lb). Six wheels on a rocker-bogie system enable mobility. Each wheel had its own motor, the vehicle was steered at front and rear and was designed to operate safely at tilts of up to 30 degrees.


  • The maximum speed of the vehicle was 5 centimeters per second (2.0 in/s) although average speed is about a fifth of this.

  • The rover's name was chosen through a NASA sponsored student essay competition.

  • The name was proposed by Ingrid van Houten-Groeneveld who, along with Cornelis Johannes van Houten and Tom Gehrels, discovered the asteroid on September 24, 1960. Opportunity's lander is Challenger Memorial Station.

  • The rover used a combination of solar cells and a rechargeable chemical battery. This class of rover has two rechargeable lithium batteries, each composed of 8 cells with 8 amp-hour capacity.

  • The scientific objectives of the Mars Exploration Rover mission were to search for and characterize a variety of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity. In particular, samples sought include those that have minerals deposited by water-related processes such as precipitation, evaporation, sedimentary cementation or hydrothermal activity. Determine the distribution and composition of minerals, rocks, and soils surrounding the landing sites.

  • The cameras produced 1024-pixel by 1024-pixel images, the data is compressed with ICER, stored, and transmitted later.

  • Opportunity was 'driven' by several operators throughout its mission, including JPL roboticist Vandi Verma who also co-wrote the PLEXIL command language used in its software.

  • In late December 2004, Opportunity reached the impact site of its heat shield and took a panorama around Sol 325.

  • Opportunity has provided substantial evidence of a wide range of rocks and soils that hold clues to past water activity on Mars.

  • Investigating the water, Opportunity has also obtained astronomical observations and atmospheric data.

  • By February 3, 2018, Opportunity had returned 224,642 pictures.

  • The rover could take pictures with its different cameras, but only the PanCam camera had the ability to photograph a scene with different color filters. The panorama views are usually built up from PanCam images.

  • By 2016, MER-B had endured seven Martian winters, during which times power levels drop which can mean the rover avoids doing activities that use a lot of power.

Opportunity Rover

Stock photo from Vivvi Smak

  • In early June 2018, a large global-scale dust storm developed, and within a few days, the rover's solar panels were not generating enough power to maintain communications, with the last contact on June 10, 2018.

  • NASA stated they did not expect to resume communication until after the global dust storm subsided, but the rover kept silent even after the storm ended in early October, suggesting either a catastrophic failure or a layer of dust covered its solar panels.

  • The team remained hopeful that a windy period between November 2018 and January 2019 might clear the dust from its solar panels, as had happened before.

  • The wind was detected nearby on January 8, and on January 26.

  • The mission team planned to begin broadcasting a new set of commands to the rover in case its radio receiver failed. More than 835 recovery commands were transmitted over the next 11 days, but no response was generated.

  • After a final attempt to make contact on February 12, 2019, NASA officials held a press conference on February 13 to declare an official end to the mission.

  • NASA associate administrator Thomas Zurbuchen stated, "It is therefore that I am standing here with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission is complete."

  • The last data send was the song "I'll Be Seeing You" performed by Billie Holiday.


Stock photo from Ingus Kruklitis