NASA’s Opportunity rover sits atop Mars’ Victoria Crater, ready to descend.
NASA’s Spirit and Opportunity rovers landed on Mars back in 2004 and were built to last all of three months. Three years and a handful of dust storms later, they’re back online and ready to keep exploring the surface of the Red Planet.
A July dust storm coated the rovers’ solar panels so badly that JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) engineers were beginning to think that Spirit and Opportunity had finally seen their last days. However, both systems came back online recently thanks to some gusty winds that served to clear the dust from the panels.
Opportunity is now poised on the edge of Victoria Crater, preparing to make the descent into the nearly half-mile-wide impact zone which many have speculated may end up being the rover’s final resting place — the climb back out of the crater might be too steep for the aging golf cart-sized machine. The crater is thought to contain certain types of rocks that haven’t been analyzed before and might provide more clues to Mars’ early atmospheric conditions.
Spirit reached an area known as Home Plate a few days ago, “a plateau of layered bedrock bearing clues to an explosive mixture of lava and water.” One of the rover’s wheels stopped working about a year ago so its mobility has been somewhat limited.
Mars Rovers Survive Dust Storms, Ready for Next Objectives [JPL.NASA.GOV]