Ten years ago this month, NASA Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars for 90 day missions. Much to the surprise of everyone, Spirit’s mission lasted nearly seven years, and Opportunity is still operational and making scientific discoveries to this day!
On June 10th and July 7th 2003, Spirit and Opportunity each rode their Delta II rockets into space and started their seven month journey to mars!
After their seven month trip, the world anxiously monitored their landings onto the surface of mars and awaited their first photos of the Martian landscape.
The two rovers traveled great distances and made many discoveries.
Unfortunately for Spirit, one of its wheels became stuck, forcing the rover to drag its dead wheel whenever it wished to move. The dead wheel on Spirit eventually revealed an important scientific discovery, however. A piece of ground dug up from dragging the wheel exposed a layer of fine silica dust. The discovery of silica dust shows us that Mars had an environment very suitable for bacterial growth, because the silica dust could only have been produced from one of two processes: a hot spring, or an acidic steam spout. Similar environments produced the first life on Earth.
In May 2009, Spirit rover accidentally drove into a patch of very soft soil which had appeared to be solid. After months of attempts to free the rover, NASA decided that Spirit would have to remain stuck and become a stationary science platform. A short time later, the rover ceased communicating and the mission was officially ended on May 25th, 2011 after over a year of unsuccessful communication attempts.
Opportunity, however, lived on. Ten years after it landed on Mars, Opportunity is still making scientific discoveries! Most recently, it found a donut shaped rock suddenly appear in front of it! Researchers are stunned and believe the rock may have been from a meteor impact!