Opportunity landed near a geological treasure trove on Mars - and that was just the beginning of the rover's discoveries.
(John Callas) I was an optimist from the very beginning -- in that I knew the rovers were well built and that as long as we survived landing, that we had a very good chance of an extended mission.
For Opportunity, things went well from the very beginning.
When we landed, right within a short distance of the rover was exposed bedrock.
And when the scientists examined that bedrock in detail, they determined that it was laid down in water some three-and-a-half to four billion years ago.
So this was the first evidence of ancient surface water on Mars.
And it's something that the scientists were looking for, and it was right there where they landed.
So they couldn't have asked for a better spot.
I think the greatest accomplishment of Eagle Crater was they saw things that look like blueberries.
And these are things that are little tiny balls of material that look like something that was produced in the presence of water.
And so this was one of the first indications that there had been water on Mars in the past.
And so I think that was one of the greatest accomplishments.
Craters are great for the geologists, because they're like time tunnels.
They're big holes in the ground, and by going down into the crater, you're essentially going back in time -- because you know the older rocks are towards the bottom.
Opportunity is the crater-exploring rover on this side of the planet.
"Endurance" was exciting, because this was the first big crater we had entered.
That's something we never thought we would ever do with a rover, because it was considered too dangerous.
So we actually had to do some additional work here on Earth to verify that it was safe -- not only to go down into the crater, but that we could get back out again.
At times, we've reached slopes of about 30 degrees and slightly higher.
It's actually hard for people to walk on 30-degree slopes.
We had a lot of close calls where we'd be driving in a particular location and we'd start sliding.
Then we'd try to go back up and we'd slide.
And there's a certain point where if you keep on sliding, you may never get out.
It was a little nerve-wracking, but in the end, they determined it was worth going in there, because scientifically it was so interesting.
Our big crater was "Victoria."
It's a half-mile diameter crater that took us about two years to reach.
And it was exciting, because we've never been to a crater quite that large.
And we had to find, at first, a safe place to go into this crater.
Well for us, actually, it was a little scary, to be perfectly honest.
Imagine going to the edge of the Grand Canyon and looking over -- and then here you are -- you're commanding a rover to go to the very edge.
And as a mission manager, you're responsible for the health and safety of this rover, and so the scientists say, "Go closer! Go closer -- because we want to see what's at the very edge!"
You have to be very careful about getting as close to the edge as you can -- but not falling over.
The greatest threat to Opportunity's survival was a global martian dust storm.
And these are massive storms -- I mean, they block out the sun.
It was quite a surprise, because, you know -- we hadn't seen anything of that magnitude before.
And so it was very stressful at that time, and that was actually right before
we started our ingress into Victoria Crater.
That was very scary, because during that period the cloud got very dark, and since we're a solar-powered vehicle, our power got very low.
So there was about a two-week period where it was touch-and-go every day, and we didn't know whether we'd come in the next day and the rover would still be there.
But it rode out the storm, it got through it, the skies cleared, and the rover was fine.
Opportunity will be leaving Victoria Crater and heading to an even larger crater.
This is called "Endeavour," and it's 20 kilometers in diameter, so it's about 12 miles in size.
And it's about 20 kilometers away, so another 12 miles in distance.
So it's actually further away than all the driving that Opportunity has done in the past five years.
So it's a very distant objective -- it's a very ambitious objective -- but scientifically, that's the direction to head.
Even if we don't reach this new, larger, giant crater, the science that we can do along the way will add to the martian history books. It will extend our historical understanding of the geology on Mars.
I think the great contribution that these rovers have made is that they have made Mars a familiar place.
The images that we take are taken very much with a human perspective,
because the cameras on the rover are right up about eye level for a person standing on Mars.
And so you get the perspective as if you were there yourself, looking over these great vistas.
With 5 years of operation for both rovers, and all the images --
you know, over a quarter million images that have been returned --
have really made Mars seem like our neighborhood.
It's no longer a foreign or alien or distant world.
It's now a familiar place that has Earth-like characteristics.
We love the rovers, as if they're our own children, because it's gone through so much, it's accomplished so much, it's gone through hardships, it's gone through incredible victories.
And so you know, we love the rovers, we care about them, we worry about them, we're excited when they make new discoveries.
They're amazing vehicles.
NASA, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology