Opportunity will celebrate its 14th year on Mars

Over a decade past its initial mission, this rover is still roving the Red Planet.
By | Published: January 24, 2018 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
This visualization of the Opportunity rover on Mars was created using “Virtual Presence in Space” technology developed at JPL.
NASA/JPL-Solar System Visualization Team
Opportunity, one of the two Mars Exploration Rovers launched in 2003, landed successfully on the Red Planet at 04:54 UTC on January 25, 2004. Its original mission parameters planned for 90 martian days (called sols) of operation during the mild summer on the Meridiani Planum near the planet’s equator. As of January 16, 2018, Opportunity has been operational for 4,970 sols and driven 28.02 miles (45.09 kilometers) on the martian surface.

On January 25, 2018, Opportunity turns 14 — in Earth years. In Mars years (which last about 687 Earth days, or 669 sols), she turns 7.4. To celebrate, here are 10 facts about the golf cart-sized rover that could:

1. After landing, Opportunity “woke up” on sol 2 to the strains of the Turtles’ “So Happy Together,” celebrating the fact that it had joined its sister rover Spirit on Mars.

Opportunity’s first look at Mars.
2. The rover’s original 90-sol mission is also referred to as its “warranty period.” That means as of sol 4,970, Opportunity is 4,880 sols past warranty.

3. Spirit and Opportunity were designed to cover about 0.6 mile (1km) during that original 90-sol mission. On July 28, 2014, NASA officials announced that Opportunity had broken the record for off-world driving after it hit a distance of 25.01 miles (40.2km). The previous record-holder was the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover, which drove 24.2 miles (39km) on the Moon in 1973.

In March 2015, Opportunity marked another milestone: It had covered the distance of a standard marathon (26.2 miles [42.2km]) in just over 11 years. Its destination at the time was named Marathon Valley in honor of the accomplishment.

Opportunity’s landing site in Eagle Crater, imaged in 2017 by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.
NASA/JPL-Caltech/Univ. of Arizona
5. Upon landing in 2004, Opportunity bounced 26 times and covered about 220 yards (200m). Its final resting place was the 72-foot-wide (22 meters), 10-foot-deep (3m) Eagle Crater. The crater was only about 16 miles (25km) from the rover’s initial intended landing site — not bad, after making a trip of 283 million miles (456 million km) from Earth.

6. Opportunity (and sister rover Spirit) weighs in at 384 pounds (174kg) and is about 5.2 feet (1.6m) long and 4.9 feet (1.5m) tall. It’s roughly the size of a golf cart, smaller than the more recently built Curiosity, which is about the size of a car and weighs in at 1,982 pounds (899 kg).

NASA engineers Matt Robinson (left) and Wesley Kuykendall (right) stand with flight spares and test doubles of three generations of Mars rovers: Sojourner (front left), a Mars Exploration Rover identical to Spirit and Opportunity (back left), and Curiosity (right).
7. For operation on Mars, Opportunity was designed to withstand daily temperature swings of about 180 degrees Fahrenheit (100 degrees Celsius). Nights on Mars can dip to -157 F (- 105 C). Inside its belly, the rover carries a special unit designed to keep any cold-sensitive equipment warm via eight radioisotope heater units. Each unit can produce about one watt of heat using only 0.1 ounce (2.7 g) of plutonium dioxide.
Martian “blueberries” (top) and the “Block Island” meteorite (bottom).
Top: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/USGS; Bottom: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell
8. The rover’s design makes it better at climbing some types of terrain when it’s moving backward. When Opportunity emerged from Endurance Crater, it did so in reverse. (The Spirit rover, following the failure of a front wheel, actually drove the rest of its mission backward, dragging the broken wheel — which did allow scientists to peek beneath the top layer of Mars’ soil.)

One of Opportunity’s first finds was “martian blueberries” on the rim of Endurance Crater. These small, blue-gray hematite-rich spherules have been the subject of debate since their discovery, with researchers proposing origins from flowing water to meteorite impact debris.

10. Opportunity also came across several iron meteorites exposed on the martian surface. The largest of these is “Block Island,” measuring about 26 inches (67cm) across. It is the largest meteorite yet found on Mars.

As of today, the Opportunity rover is still going strong! It’s currently exploring Perseverance Valley, along the rim of Endurance Crater. You can follow Opportunity’s ongoing adventures on Twitter at @MarsRovers.
NASA created this graphic to celebrate “Oppy’s” 13th birthday last year.
Want to learn more about our exploration of Mars? Check out our free downloadable eBook, Mars: Exploring the Red Planet