Last month the rover Opportunity marked 11 years on the Martian surface. It landed in January 2004 shortly after Spirit, a similar rover that regrettably sent its last communication back to Earth in 2010 after getting stuck in 2009.
Both rovers were developed for 90-Sol (a Martian day) missions on the surface. Each rover has outlasted that expected life many times over. Let that sink in. For the unfortunate failures experienced in space exploration, incredibly long-lived vehicles like Opportunity need to be celebrated.
NASA marked the occasion by releasing a panorama photo taken by Opportunity a few weeks before the 11th anniversary. You can see the rover’s U.S. flag on the piece poking into frame on the lower right.
In its 11-plus years of operation, Opportunity has traveled nearly 26 miles, making it the farthest-traveled surface craft not on planet Earth. Congratulations on more than a decade of ‘bonus’ exploration and science, Opportunity. May you continue exploring the Red Planet for years to come.