This Is What Sound Government Spending Looks Like
Do not let anyone tell you spending federal dollars on NASA is a waste of taxpayers’ dollars. It is one of our proudest accomplishments as a nation when we explore beyond our planet.
For a rover with a prime mission of only 3 months, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity sure is going above and beyond the call of duty.
On Monday, the veteran wheeled rover celebrated its 12th year (yes, that’s 12 Earth years, or 144 months) on the red planet and, although it’s been a hard road for the robot, it is still doing science. And it’s doing science during the most aggressive period of the Martian year, which is nearly 687 Earth days long.
Since landing on Meridiani Planum on Jan. 24, 2004, Opportunity has provided some huge clues to Mars’ ancient wet environment, the planet’s unique geology and atmospheric dynamics. Having an unexpectedly long-duration rover on Mars has also taught NASA a thing or two about engineering and how to deal with aging robotics on a planet tens of millions of miles away.
Despite obvious limitations in what Opportunity can accomplish, valuable science is still being done. Most recently, the rover used its rock abrasion tool attached to its robotic arm to scrub a circle in the surface of a rock dubbed “Private John Potts” in “Marathon Valley,” a location so-named for being Opportunity’s “finishing line” when it completed just over 26 miles driven since landing in 2004. With the surface of the rock removed, other instruments on its robotic arm can be used to study its composition and therefore help geologists understand the conditions in which the rock was formed.