U.S. Timeline - The 2000s
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2004 - DetailMarch 2, 2004 - Mars rover MER-B (Opportunity) confirms to NASA that the area of their landing was once covered in water.
It was a mission to explore the red planet of Mars and discover whether water had existed there in the past. Two rovers were launched toward opposite sides of the planet, on June 10 (MER-A, Spirit) and July 7, 2003 (MER-B, Opportunity), landing January 3 and January 24, 2004 respectively. Once deployed, they were expected to walk forty-four yards per day and explore the geology of the surrounding area. The landing site for Spirit was the Gusey Crater; for Opportunity, the Meridiani Planum. This mission was not the first in the series of Mars exploration rovers. It was the third. The initial mission to Mars was two Viking program landers in 1976. The second mission was a Mars Pathfinder probe in 1997.
Subsequent Facts of Mission
Both rovers were launched on the Delta II 7925-9.5 rocket by Boeing.
Initial mission was to last 90 martian years (687 days per year)with a cost of $820 million. Five extensions to the first mission have been granted.
News conference held on March 23, 2004 announced the discovery that there was significant evidence that water had been present on the Mars surface in the area of the Meridiani Planum where Opportunity roamed. Evidence of bromine and chlorine suggust it had been a salty sea with flowing water.
Roaming further: Opportunity would leave its initial destination and head for the Endurance and Victoria craters. Spirit would climb the Columbia Hills.
July 2007 dust storms caused an interruption when sunlight was blocked on the rover solar panels. NASA feared they would be disabled, but were not.
So, since 2004, how far have the rovers traveled? Spirit has traveled 4.8 miles since landing, although NASA lost transmission from the rover in 2010 and considered it lost on May 25, 2011. Even though it became disabled on that date, the mission had lasted twenty-five times longer than anticipated. Opportunity, however, is still going. Latest odometer, as of July 2016, is 26.75 miles. It was joined on Mars by an additional rover, Curiosity, on August 6, 2012. Curiosity is exploring Gale Crater. It has been announced that another rover is planned for launch in 2020.
Photo above: Mars-River Mer-B, Discovery, in testing at NASA Payload Hazardous Servicing Facility, Kennedy Space Center, March 2003. Photo below: Panaramic view of the Erebus Rim, November/December 2005, shot from the camera of Opportunity. Photos courtesy NASA. Information sources: NASA, Wikipedia Commons.