Opportunity Rover Hits 5,000 Sols On Mars - And Takes A Selfie

©NASA

Opportunity Selfie

PSI Senior Scientist R. Aileen Yingst was in the driver's seat Feb. 15 directing the science activities for NASA's Opportunity Rover as it spent its 5,000th day exploring the Martian surface.

Yingst served as Science Operations Working Group chairperson running the group that decided what the rover did that sol, or Martian day.

The rover's mission has far exceeded the 90 sols for which it was initially scheduled when it landed on Mars Jan. 25, 2004. A Martian "sol" lasts about 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, and a Martian year lasts nearly two Earth years.

"Five thousand sols after the start of our 90-sol mission, this amazing rover is still showing us surprises on Mars," said Opportunity Project Manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

Yingst said she never imagined the rover would continue to function this long. "Absolutely not, but not because I lacked faith in the engineering. Simply put, rocket science is difficult and risky; Principal Investigator Steve Squyres compared working on a rover to doing geology with a sniper over your shoulder," she said.

"There's no landed mission that compare to NASA's Mars Exploration Rover program's longevity and resilience, and that's due to the people who work so hard and give up their weekends and off-hours to solve the insolvable and work around the unworkable," said Yingst, who has worked on MER since 2006.

"I headed up the science planning for what Opportunity did during sol 5,000," said Yingst, who is an Associate Principal Investigator for the rover. "The rover got a nice selfie shot to mark the day. We also imaged a channel in which the rover has been driving. It's another day at the office, but the office is millions of miles away. Science on Mars is always special, amazing, incredible and different."

Opportunity has driven more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) from its landing site to its current location about one-third of the way down "Perseverance Valley," a shallow channel cutting from the crest of the crater rim down its inside slope. The rover has returned more than 225,000 images, which may be viewed at https://mars.nasa.gov/mer/gallery/all/opportunity.html

The long-lived rover continues to offer new insights on Mars, including the recent discovery of what are believed to be rock stripes. On some slopes within the Perseverance Valley where the rover is now located, the soil and gravel particles appear to have become organized into narrow rows or corrugations, parallel to the slope, alternating between rows with more gravel and rows with less. The pattern resembles a smudged version of very distinctive stone stripes on some mountain slopes on Earth that result from repeated cycles of freezing and thawing of wet soil. But it might also be due to wind, downhill transport, other processes or a combination.

Yingst said that Opportunity has seen a broad spectrum of scientific successes. "There just isn't one thing. I think the coolest part is the mission itself - the fact that I wake up every morning and go to work on Mars like it's a normal thing to do. It's crazy amazing that it's that way, but it also should be that way, because humans are capable of it. We stretch the limits of possibility every day, and that's something that our species can be proud of."

THE PLANETARY SCIENCE INSTITUTE:

The Planetary Science Institute is a private, nonprofit 501(c)(3) corporation dedicated to solar system exploration. It is headquartered in Tucson, Arizona, where it was founded in 1972.

PSI scientists are involved in numerous NASA and international missions, the study of Mars and other planets, the Moon, asteroids, comets, interplanetary dust, impact physics, the origin of the solar system, extra-solar planet formation, dynamics, the rise of life, and other areas of research. They conduct fieldwork on all continents around the world. They also are actively involved in science education and public outreach through school programs, children's books, popular science books and art.

PSI scientists are based in 23 states and the District of Columbia, and work from various locations around the world.

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