By Mike Deliman
The Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity mission celebrated a milestone, an achievement literally never before conceived… to drive on another planet, for ten years! Opportunity has outlasted the original computers (and disk drives) her software was developed on. Literally. This achievement is even being celebrated in a Smithsonian exhibit. Opportunity also recently made another out-of-this-world record: Off-Earth Driving Record!
“No one expected it to outlast the furniture…” one comment about the impressive longevity of the mission.
New, surprising discoveries are still being made every day. The science that has been brought back fills volumes, a cloud of its own. It has changed our understanding of the Red Planet. It has helped inspire engineers, helped set goals and expectations of a generation.
The Opportunity mission was not only a success, it was a success upon investigating the crater in which the second probe landed. The edges of that crater alone contained the evidence necessary to transform our understandings of the way the ecology of the planet evolved.
Mars was wet. There is clay on the surface, there is evidence that the entire planet wasn’t always acidic and peroxide rich. Mars Rover Curiosity is now investigating a crater full of clay, confirming many of the things Opportunity and sister Rover Spirit found. Opportunity is heading towards some bluffs around a crater that show perhaps the richest concentrations of clay we’ve encountered yet.
With these successful missions, MER rovers, and now Curiosity, our understanding of how Mars has evolved has changes. And the missions have answered a critical question – could Mars ever have supported life? In short, Curiosity confirms, yes:
“Evidence of a lakebed environment billions of years ago that offered fresh water, all of the key elemental ingredients for life, and a chemical source of energy for microbes.”
I’m proud to state that Wind River VxWorks real-time operating system is what all of the computers currently operating on Mars are running. These missions have been an amazing journey of discovery and growth, increasing our understanding of the Red Planet, and in turn, the solar system, and how planets may evolve.
Looking forward to many more milestones, achievements and records made on Mars!