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10 Years On Mars: What Spirit & Opportunity Discovered

NASA's twin rovers have spent a decade on the red planet, using their scientific instruments and engineering cameras to explore rocks and soil.
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(Source: NASA)
(Source: NASA)

A decade ago, a desert-like planet received two visitors that would later make important scientific discoveries and inspire a new generation of exploration rovers. This month marks the 10-year anniversary of Spirit and Opportunity, which landed on Mars in January 2004.

Spirit arrived at the Red Planet on January 3, 2004, carrying six science instruments, along with engineering cameras. Opportunity, Spirit's twin, landed on Mars on January 24, 2004, with the same payload of instruments.

It was originally planned to be a very short mission, and it's still going strong today. "We shouldn't be here. The rovers weren't supposed to last more than three months," Mars Exploration Rover (MER) driver Ashley Stroupe said during the mission's anniversary event at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) on January 16.

While Opportunity continues to explore Mars, Spirit's mission ended in March 2010 after it ceased to communicate with Earth. Opportunity has beamed back 187,000 raw images of the planet so far, and Spirit produced 128,000 raw images during its time on Mars. Each rover is equipped with a Pancam, a high-resolution color stereo pair of CCD cameras used to photograph the surface and sky of Mars, and a Microscopic Imager, which combines a microscope and a CCD camera to capture data on the small-scale features of Martian rocks and soils. The rovers also have advanced communication capabilities to communicate with orbiting probes and directly with Earth.

Years of Mars exploration has paved the way for a new and improved generation of rovers. "Since the landings of Spirit and Opportunity, we have maintained an active continuous presence on Mars. Now we begin the second decade of that exploration," John Callas, project manager of the MER project, said during the January 16 event.

Compared to its predecessors, Curiosity -- which successfully landed on Mars on August 6, 2012 -- has 10 science instruments, in addition to engineering cameras and sample-collection tools. Curiosity is twice as long and five times as heavy as Spirit and Opportunity. Many of the design elements were inherited from the twin rovers, but Curiosity is the only one with the ability to gather samples of rocks and soil, process them, and distribute them to test chambers onboard.

NASA plans to continue its quest for signs of past life on the red planet with the next Mars rover due to launch in 2020. That rover is expected to look a lot like Curiosity, but it will carry new science instruments that can acquire data quickly and that minimize power consumption. NASA is also looking to equip the rover with technology that has low operational complexity and doesn't require intervention from an operator.

As Opportunity nears its 10-year mark on Mars, take a look at the highlights from its mission, along with some discoveries made by Spirit.

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CD323
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CD323,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 2:23:43 PM
Re: Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
But because something has not been proven doesn't mean that it will eventually be proven.  In fact the reason it's unproven could be because it's incorrect.

 
anon8276525582
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anon8276525582,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 2:19:19 PM
Re: Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
@dixiedog44:  Speculation in science has merit.  Often it takes speculation to suggest an experiment, if not by the originator then later on by someone else when the technology to perform the experiment is realized.  Also, if it seems to you that things really aren't progressing, then maybe you aren't spending enough time keeping current.
dixiedog44
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dixiedog44,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 1:55:21 PM
Re: Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
Scientific speculation is wonderful.  Look how it has advanced since the days that the top scientists speculated that the world was flat and if you sailed to the edge you would fall off!  Come to think of it, maybe we just keep going around in circles?
anon3511365391
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anon3511365391,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 1:46:16 PM
Spaceballs
"Man we aint found SH*T!"
SkepticN016
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SkepticN016,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 1:34:35 PM
Re: Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
Logical fallacy.  Argument from Incredulity & Argument from Ignorance.  Because something has not been explained to your satisfaction does not mean there was magic.
rradina
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rradina,
User Rank: Ninja
1/24/2014 | 11:14:45 AM
Re: Lessons from long-lived robots?
Dust contamination and low availability of strong sunlight during Martian winters have always been problematic for Spirit and Opportunity.  It's suspected that Spirit's death was caused by lack of power which allowed the electronics to get too cold.

Although Opportunity soldiers on with its boom and bust solar charge cycles, Curiosity uses a nuclear power source.  Nuclear provides steady power and is unaffected by time of day, season and weather.  Instead of burdening precious electrical capacity, nuclear by-product heat is used to keep sensitive equipment warm.
WKash
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WKash,
User Rank: Author
1/24/2014 | 11:00:30 AM
NASA rivals Energizer Bunny
I think it's time for the Energizer Bunny to stand aside as the icon of long lasting staying power and let NASA's Mars rovers serve as the new icons of engineering endurance in America. 
BabuR162
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BabuR162,
User Rank: Apprentice
1/24/2014 | 10:54:42 AM
Any Life on Mars Came from Earth!
In the Earth's past there was powerful volcanic activity which could have easily spewed dirt and rocks containing microbes into outer space which not only could have eventually reached Mars but also ended up traveling in orbit through space that we now know as meteors, comets, and asteroids. A Newsweek article of September 21, 1998, p.12 mentions the high possibility of Earth life on Mars. "We think there's about 7 million tons of earth soil sitting on Mars", says scientist and evolutionist Kenneth Nealson. "You have to consider the possibility that if we find life on Mars, it could have come from the Earth" [Weingarten, T., Newsweek, September 21, 1998, p.12].
 
HAVING THE RIGHT CONDITIONS AND RAW MATERIALS FOR LIFE doesn't mean that life can originate by chance.
 
Proteins can't come into existence unless there's life first! Miller, in his famous experiment in 1953, showed that individual amino acids (the building blocks of life) could come into existence by chance. But, it's not enough just to have amino acids. The various amino acids that make-up life must link together in a precise sequence, just like the letters in a sentence, to form functioning protein molecules. If they're not in the right sequence the protein molecules won't work. It has never been shown that various amino acids can bind together into a sequence by chance to form protein molecules. Even the simplest cell is made up of many millions of various protein molecules.
 
The probability of just an average size protein molecule arising by chance is 10 to the 65th power. Mathematicians have said any event in the universe with odds of 10 to 50th power or greater is impossible! The late great British scientist Sir Frederick Hoyle calculated that the odds of even the simplest cell coming into existence by chance is 10 to the 40,000th power! How large is this? Consider that the total number of atoms in our universe is 10 to the 23rd power.
 
Also, what many don't realize is that Miller had a laboratory apparatus that shielded and protected the individual amino acids the moment they were formed, otherwise the amino acids would have quickly disintegrated and been destroyed in the mix of random energy and forces involved in Miller's experiment.
 
There is no innate chemical tendency for the various amino acids to bond with one another in a sequence. Any one amino acid can just as easily bond with any other. The only reason at all for why the various amino acids bond with one another in a precise sequence in the cells of our bodies is because they're directed to do so by an already existing sequence of molecules found in our genetic code.
 
Of course, once you have a complete and living cell then the genetic code and 
biological machinery exist to direct the formation of more cells, but how could life or the cell have naturally originated when no directing code and mechanisms existed in nature? Read my Internet article: HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM.
 
A partially evolved cell would quickly disintegrate under the effects of random forces of the environment, especially without the protection of a complete and fully functioning cell membrane. A partially evolved cell cannot wait millions of years for chance to make it complete and living! In fact, it couldn't have even 
reached the partially evolved state.
 
Please read my popular Internet articles listed below:
 
ANY LIFE ON MARS CAME FROM EARTH, 
SCIENCE AND THE ORIGIN OF LIFE, 
NATURAL LIMITS OF EVOLUTION, 
HOW FORENSIC SCIENCE REFUTES ATHEISM, 
WAR AMONG EVOLUTIONISTS (2nd Edition), 
NO HALF-EVOLVED DINOSAURS, 
HOW DID MY DNA MAKE ME?
DOES GOD PARTICLE EXPLAIN UNIVERSE'S ORIGIN?
 
Visit my newest Internet site: THE SCIENCE SUPPORTING CREATION
 
Sincerely,
Babu G. Ranganathan*
(B.A. theology/biology)
 
Author of popular Internet article, TRADITIONAL DOCTRINE OF HELL EVOLVED FROM GREEK ROOTS
 
* I have had the privilege of being recognized in the 24th edition of Marquis "Who's Who In The East" for my writings on religion and science, and I have given successful lectures (with question and answer time afterwards) defending creation from science before evolutionist science faculty and students at various colleges and universities.
David F. Carr
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David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
1/24/2014 | 10:42:56 AM
Lessons from long-lived robots?
Have the engineers drawn any lessons from the longevity of these robots that could lead to future probes being designed for long, productive lives?
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