This week, NASA said goodbye to Opportunity, a rover that roamed the surface of Mars for nearly 15 years before it was silenced by a planet-encompassing dust storm last summer.
Over the years, the rover hit a lot of milestones, including completing a marathon. Its engineers managed to keep it working through standard Mars hazards like brutal temperature swings and dust storms and as it coped with problems of memory loss. In the end, its mission lasted 5,352 Martian days, which is almost 60 times longer than the 90-day mission that it was originally expected to complete.
Data collected by the rover helped show that Mars was once a lot warmer and wetter than it is today. Along the way, it sent 217,000 images back to Earth, giving us a stunning view of our planetary neighbor. Here are a few snapshots from Opportunity’s epic mission.
Twenty-four Martian days after Opportunity landed, it took this picture of what NASA called its “empty nest” — all the gear that helped keep Opportunity safe during its landing. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell Instead of being lowered out of the sky by a sky crane like some of the later rovers, Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, had a rough landing. During descent, their “nests” were surrounded by circular airbags, and when they landed, they bounced along the surface. These are a few imprints from those airbags. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell NASA nicknamed these round rock formations “blueberries.” They’re small — the entire area in this picture is only about 1.2 inches across — but rock formations like this provided evidence that Mars was once wet. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / USGS A selfie taken in 2011 shows dust coating the rover’s solar panels. During dust storms, the amount of power the rover could generate was severely reduced, and engineers had to wait for wind to clear the dust from the panels Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell / Arizona State University In March 2016, Opportunity had the chance to photograph a dust devil spinning through the distance. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech Opportunity’s shadow extends over the landscape in this 2004 picture. At this point, Opportunity had been on Mars for 180 days, which is twice the length of its original 90-day mission. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech In 2004, Opportunity spied these small reddish dunes on the floor of Endurance Crater. These dunes are shown in approximately true color — what it would look like to a human who was standing on the Martian surface. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech / Cornell In this 2010 picture, Opportunity is about six years into its originally slated 90-day mission. Its navigation camera captured a snippet of its already long trek across the landscape. It would keep going on its journey for another eight years. Photo: NASA / JPL-Caltech