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Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA’s Opportunity rover sees its 5,000th day on Mars

It was only intended to work for 90.
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NASA/JPL-Caltech

This weekend, NASA's Opportunity rover spent its 5,000th day on Mars. While that is a feat in and of itself, it's even more impressive when you consider that it was only planned to last 90 Martian days, or sols. Both Opportunity and its companion rover Spirit were launched towards Mars in 2003, landing on two different parts of the planet in January 2004. Neither were expected to make it through Mars' harsh winter though, which lasts about twice as long as ours and is severely lacking in light, but NASA's team discovered that pointing the rovers towards the north and towards the sun was enough to keep them powered through the winter. Further, making sure the rovers were on north-facing slopes each winter helped to keep them going for years longer than they were ever intended to function.

Spirit got stuck in the Martian soil in 2010, preventing it from pointing its solar panels towards the sun. And NASA eventually decided to let it go, ceasing all communications with it in 2011. But Opportunity has kept trucking, even through some not insignificant damage, and has now traveled over 28 miles and sent 225,000 images back to Earth. You can check those out here. Opportunity helped scientists discover that surface and groundwater likely existed on Mars and it's currently about one-third of the way down Mars' Perseverance Valley. Opportunity hit its 5,000th sol, which lasts around 40 minutes longer than an Earth day, on Saturday.

"Five thousand sols after the start of our 90-sol mission, this amazing rover is still showing us surprises on Mars," Opportunity Project Manager John Callas said in a statement.

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