The Opportunity rover has completed 11 years on the Red Planet, far surpassing its original design lifetime of three months. To mark the occasion, NASA released a hilltop panorama of a stunning Martian crater.
This new photo of the Martian landscape shows the view Opportunity saw from a raised area at the edge of Endeavour Crater, at the edge of Cape Tribulation. A wide view of the interior of the crater is visible in the panoramic image. Since 2011, the rover has been exploring the western rim of the crater.
The Opportunity rover landed on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004. Since that time, the spacecraft has trekked 25.9 miles across the surface of the planet, further than any other off-planet vehicle. During that time, the robotic laboratory found the most compelling evidence to date of a wet climate on Mars, long in the ancient past. One of the great mysteries still to be answered about Mars is learning what happened to ancient water on the surface of the planet.
In 2013, Opportunity passed Botany Bay, at the base of the crater rim. At that time, the vehicle began a climb of 440 feet, to the perch where the rover took the photograph, which was imaged on Jan. 6.
"The U.S. flag is printed on the aluminum cable guard of the rover's rock abrasion tool, which is used for grinding away weathered rock surfaces to expose fresh interior material for examination. The flag is intended as a memorial to victims of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. The aluminum was recovered from the site of the Twin Towers in the weeks following the attacks," NASA officials stated in a press release announcing the image.
Opportunity launched to Mars on Jul. 7, 2003, landing on Meridiani Planum over six months later, three weeks after its twin rover Spirit touched down on the opposite side of the Red Planet. Mission engineers spent two years exploring Victoria Crater, before traveling to Endeavour Crater, which some researchers describe as a "second landing site."
In October 2014, Opportunity was utilized to view comet Siding Spring as the icy body made a close encounter with our planetary neighbor.
The mission has not been entirely free of glitches and challenges. Recently, NASA officials had to update software in the rover to help work around memory losses experienced by the vehicle. A more permanent solution is still being designed.
Next, Opportunity will head to Marathon Valley, named after the distance the rover will travel to reach there from its original landing spot.
The full panorama is available on the NASA website.