Skip to content
Sign up for monthly email updates of faith and science articles from Magis Center!
Maggie Ciskanik, M.S.February 20, 20193 min read

Opportunity Rover Lost: Knowledge Gained

The Mars rover, Curiosity, has been much in the news lately (even on the Magis website!), but the Opportunity rover has taken over the headlines as its mission has officially ended. 

According to officials:

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday [February 12, 2019], to no avail.

One of the most outstanding and startling achievements of Opportunity is that the length of its operation and the extent of its travels far exceeded its intended 90 day mission and 1100 yards.

Operating since its January 2004 landing date and sending its last signal in June 2018, Opportunity navigated over a sometimes treacherous terrain for 28 miles (45 km).

Other Achievements

In addition to its longevity and distance records, according to NASA’s website, some of Opportunity’s significant achievements include:

  • Setting a one-day Mars driving record March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
  • Returning more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
  • Exposing the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
  • Finding hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
  • Discovering strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.

This short video with footage and commentary from the engineers who made this mission such a success is worth watching!


Opportunity had a twin: Curiosity now has a companion

Opportunity’s twin rover, Spirit, landed on the other side of Mars at the beginning of January 2004. Achieving its own place in the history of Mars exploration, Spirit logged almost 5 miles (8 kilometers) and endured the harsh climate and terrain until May 2011. Between the two rovers, in addition to scientific data collected, they relayed over 342,000 raw images and 31 stunning 360-degree color panoramas.

As of November 26, 2018, Curiosity now has a companion. NASA’s InSight lander, is set to take measurements of Mars’ interior temperature, one of its goals.

Two more rovers will join the party next year as NASA and the European Space Agency each plan launches in July 2020.

The “little rover that could”

The expressions of gratitude and admirations for this intrepid robot flooded social media and news outlets. Opportunity’s nickname, “the little rover that could,” seems well-earned, but it is the people behind the rover that really get the credit.

"I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley," said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. "The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her."

The visuals in this six minute clip from an IMAX documentary of Opportunity’s mission, “How to Get To Mars” are stunning!


For a chronology of Mars exploration beginning in 1960, with its many failures and successes, go here

Read Also:

Mountains, Mars, and Our Desire to Know

2018 Ends with Historic First—and 2019 Gets Off to a Spectacular Start

NASA at 60: Moon Shadows and Music

Featured image: Mars Exploration Rover (Opportunity) / Credit: NASA


Maggie Ciskanik, M.S.

Armed with a B.A. in Philosophy and a minor in science, Ciskanik landed in a graduate nursing program. With the support of her enthusiastic husband, an interesting career unfolded while the family grew: a seven year stint mostly as a neurology nurse, 15 years as a homeschooling mom of six, and a six year sojourn as curriculum developer and HS science teacher (which included teaching students with cognitive differences). These experiences added fuel to her lifelong interest in all things related to God’s creation and the flourishing of the human spirit—which has found a new home on the Magis blog.