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Timeline: Opportunity’s record-setting mission on Mars

Here are selected highlights from Opportunity’s 15-year mission on Mars:

Jan. 24, 2004 | Opportunity lands on Mars, bouncing its way right into the center of a small crater

NASA declared it an interplanetary “hole in one” and named the landing spot Eagle Crater.

March 2, 2004 | Opportunity finds evidence that Meridiani Planum on Mars was once soaking wet

Scientists announce that a rock outcrop explored by the rover was once covered in water. That explains why the rocks contain sulfates and accounts for certain features of their physical appearance.

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March 18, 2004 | Opportunity discovers Martian ‘blueberries’

The small, BB-sized spheres are rich in the mineral hematite, which gives them a bluish tint. This is a sign that they formed in water that contained iron.

Late March, 2004 | Opportunity leaves Eagle Crater and heads toward Endurance Crater

Scientists hope the bedrock layers at Endurance will provide information about how long this part of Mars was wet.

April 15, 2004 | NASA says Opportunity has found a rock that strongly resembles meteorites on Earth.

The volcanic rock’s composition had not been found on Mars before, but it is similar to rocks found on Earth. Scientists call it “Bounce Rock” because the rover first bounced into it during landing.

Jan. 19, 2005 | Opportunity finds another meteorite, this one with iron and nickel

The pitted meteorite is about the size of a basketball. Its components were identified by Opportunity’s spectrometer.

June 6, 2005 | Opportunity emerges from a sand trap, continues roving

It took more than a month to extricate the rover from a Martian sand dune. All six of its wheels were rim-deep in the soft sand.

Sept. 27, 2006 | Opportunity arrives at Victoria Crater

This crater is five times wider than Endurance, and it took the rover 21 months to reach it. Its walls contain exposed rock, and its floor is covered in dunes.

July 31, 2007 | Dust storms and cold temperatures cause NASA to grow “increasingly concerned” about Opportunity

NASA officials have the rover hunker down as the storms rage around it, draining its power. As the dust slowly clears, the solar panels are able to recharge the batteries. The rover is driving again six weeks later.

Sept. 11, 2007 | Opportunity bites the bullet and drives into Victoria Crater

After two days of tests, a period of “sustained exploration” gets underway. Opportunity remains in Victoria Crater until Aug. 29, 2008.

Sept. 22, 2008 | Opportunity sets off for Endeavour Crater

The new target is more than 20 times bigger than Victoria Crater, and it’s about seven miles away. Mission managers recognize the rover may not make it, but it’s a gamble they’re willing to make for the sake of science.

March 11, 2009 | Opportunity (and Spirit) are lauded by Congress

The resolution “recognizes the success and significant scientific contributions of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rovers,” especially their findings that the red planet may have been habitable in the past.

Aug. 10, 2009 | Opportunity finds another metallic meteorite

This one is as big as a watermelon. The fact that it didn’t disintegrate upon impact implies that it encountered a thicker Martian atmosphere, which would have slowed it down. The specimen is named “Block Island.”

May 20, 2010 | Opportunity breaks Viking 1’s record for longevity on Mars

Viking 1 operated on the Martian surface for six years and 116 days. Since Spirit is not operational at the time, only Opportunity breaks the record.

May 25, 2011 | Spirit mission ends after getting stuck in a sand trap

It had been 14 months since Spirit last communicated with Earth. It covered 4.8 miles of territory over six years.

Aug. 9, 2011 | Opportunity reaches Endeavour after 13-mile trek

It took almost three years for the rover to get there from Victoria Crater. Study of Endeavour begins on Sept. 1.

Dec. 7, 2011 | Opportunity finds bright veins of a mineral

Apparently, it’s gypsum, and scientists say it was deposited in Martian rocks by flowing water. The lead scientist for the mission said the discovery prompted geologists to “jump out of their chairs.”

May 16, 2013 | Opportunity sets a new record for distance traveled by a NASA vehicle

It bested the mark set by Apollo 17’s Lunar Roving Vehicle. Opportunity took nine years to go 22.22 miles, which is not surprising since its top speed is 0.11 miles per hour.

April 17, 2014 | A windy winter leaves Opportunity’s solar panels cleaner than they’ve been in years.

That means the rover can collect extra solar energy, and engineers use it to steer Opportunity to Murray Ridge on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. They hope the ridge will reveal more secrets about wet environments on ancient Mars.

July 28, 2014 | Opportunity sets a new distance record for extraterrestrial driving

It overtakes the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover. This is announced when Opportunity’s odometer reads 25.01 miles. Lunokhod 2 traversed 24.2 miles on the moon. As a tribute, NASA names a Martian crater Lunokhod 2.

Oct. 19, 2014 | Opportunity spies comet Siding Spring in the Martian sky.

It teamed up with Curiosity and three Mars orbiters to study the surprisingly small comet.

March 24, 2015 | Opportunity completes a “marathon” on Mars

The rover reaches this milestone during a 153-foot drive. It took one year and two months to cover 26.2 miles on Mars. Mission scientists celebrate by naming a nearby destination “Marathon Valley.”

March 10, 2016 | Opportunity attempts a steep climb out of Marathon Valley and toward an area near the crest of Knudsen Ridge

Scientists want to go there to examine clay minerals spotted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. These clays form in the presence of water. The rover reached a maximum tilt of 32 degrees and slipped too much to reach its target. Ultimately, NASA picked another target where clays were also present.

March 31, 2016 | Opportunity spies a dust devil

The dust devil was spotted in Marathon Valley. Spirit saw dust devils often in Gusev Crater, but sightings by Opportunity were rare.

June 10, 2018 | Opportunity goes silent as a massive dust storm strikes Mars

NASA says it hopes the rover can sleep through it. Three days later, the agency announces that it has suspended Opportunity’s science operations for the time being. Always looking on the bright side, the agency says its four spacecraft in orbit around Mars will have an excellent opportunity to study the storm.

Aug. 16, 2018 | NASA says it’s optimistic about reestablishing communication with Opportunity now that the dust storm is beginning to subside

The rover’s batteries were in good shape when the storm began, and the dust should have helped keep the rover warm enough for its instruments to survive. Still, they acknowledge that they don’t know how long it will take for Opportunity to phone home.

Feb. 12, 2019 | NASA says Opportunity is all but lost

After eight months and more than 1,000 unanswered commands, hope is dwindling that the rover can be revived. NASA engineers say they will try a few final commands before declaring Opportunity’s mission over.

Feb. 13, 2019 | Opportunity’s mission ends

“With a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude, I declare the Opportunity mission is complete,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, told a crowd gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Cañada Flintridge. Those who worked on the mission declared their love for the rover.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, announces the official end of Opportunity's mission on Mars.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

karen.kaplan@latimes.com

Follow me on Twitter @LATkarenkaplan and “like” Los Angeles Times Science & Health on Facebook.


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