Eleven years ago today—in fact, at this very minute (12:05 am ET)—NASA's Opportunity rover touched down on Mars for what was supposed to be a 90-day mission. Since then, Opportunity has proven to be an engineering marvel by traveling almost 26 miles on the Martian surface, more than any other off-Earth surface vehicle.
Yes, a human-built craft has almost traveled a full marathon on the surface of another planet.
For this special occasion, NASA's Jet Propulsion Labs put together a short video, detailing some of the rover's landmark achievements.
Opportunity's rover brother, Spirit, landed on Mars three weeks before but NASA lost contact with that vehicle in 2010. Until the more instrument-laden Curiosity landed in the summer of 2012, Opportunity continued working overtime, exploring the giant red rock first at the Victoria Crater until moving toward the Endeavor Crater.
And Oppy is still ticking, snapping this panorama on Jan. 6, which NASA released just a few days ago:
But that doesn't mean Opportunity hasn't seen its fair share of scrapes. The rover has had mechanical problems during its 11-year mission and was even trapped in a big sand dune, which it wriggled free from back in 2005. NASA's biggest problem now is that Opportunity is showing signs of amnesia because of faulty memory. Although this doesn't threaten the Opportunity mission completely—the rover can use RAM to store information—NASA wants to reformat the faulty hardware so Opportunity can keep trucking.
NASA also knows Opportunity is on borrowed time as the project lead John Callas recently told Discovery News:
"It's like you have an aging parent, that is otherwise in good health - maybe they go for a little jog every day, play tennis each day - but you never know, they could have a massive stroke right in the middle of the night. So we're always cautious that something could happen."
But at this exact moment in 2004, NASA landed its second rover in just one month, and everything was jubilation. You can relive the exact moment of Opportunity's touchdown (with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Al Gore in attendance) and the transmission of the rover's very first images through the power of the internet:
Thanks, Opportunity. Curiosity has a lot to live up to.