When NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on Mars in 2004, it was supposed to be good for three months before the unforgiving environment was expected to take its toll. A decade later, Opportunity is still communicating with NASA’s mission control and moving across the planet’s dust and rock-covered terrain.
The solar-powered robot has traveled more than 25 miles. Opportunity has broken the previous off-world driving record set by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover on the moon in 1973. That rover covered about 24 miles in five months before it shut down.
The rover is wheeling toward Mars’ Marathon Valley, where it will continue to look for signs of ancient water and fossils of microbial life. It has become the gold standard of long-distance rovers.
It might be too much to expect Opportunity to be in business when humans land on Mars in 20 years. But that would be an amazing rendezvous.