NASA's Martian rover Opportunity is now the longest surviving spacecraft on the surface of the Red Planet logging more than six years of active life, or 2,307 Earth days, since landing on the surface on 25 January 2004. It surpasses the record set by the Viking 1 lander which settled on the Martian surface on 20 July 1976 and operated until its last transmission in November 1982.
|An artist concept of the Mars Rover|
In Martian days the Opportunity has spent 2,246 Sols, or Martian days on the surface of the planet, overhauling the record of 2,245 Sols set by the Viking 1 lander.
The Opportunity is currently engaged in crawling its way to a large crater, named Endeavour, which it will reach only after two years, provided no unforeseen accidents impede its progress.
These records eclipse all expectations that scientists had about the length of the mission. Opportunity, and its twin, the Spirit, were originally designed to execute a three-month mission and have by now far exceeded the most optimistic NASA expectations about their survivability in the rugged Martian ambience of six months.
Opportunity's twin Spirit landed three weeks earlier than the Opportunity but ran into a series of problems when its wheels got stuck in the soil. The Martian winter then ensured that its solar panels did not receive enough sunlight to generate sufficient power to run the rover and its systems. With its batteries drained of life it is unable to communicate with NASA handlers back on Earth.
Come September or October mission managers still expect to get in touch with the Spirit as the Martian summer revives and days begin to lengthen. If it is unable to extract its wheels then the Spirit could continue scientific studies in the stationary mode observing weather patterns and wobbles in the planet's rotation.
Far above the Martian surface a couple of orbiters have survived even longer, with NASA's Mars Global Surveyor orbiting for more than nine years before going dead in 2006. Another NASA orbiter, the Mars Odyssey, is orbiting and operating since 2001 and is set to surpass the Global Surveyor's record later this year.