NASA’s solar powered rover Opportunity has ended its research on Mars, but its legacy will continue as scientists at Purdue University use the data collected by the robot to further explore the red planet.
Originally sent for a 90 day mission, Opportunity surprised many by providing information from Mars for nearly 15 years. NASA ended attempts at communication Wednesday after more than six months of silence from the robot.
Purdue University professor Briony Horgan says she actually got into planetary science because Opportunity and twin rover Spirit.
“I have seen a lot of news reports reporting that Opportunity is reported dead or died on Mars, but really that’s not how we look at it,” says Horgan. “We look at it as one of the most successful missions NASA has ever flown to another planet.”
There were times where Opportunity’s funding was in jeopardy, but Horgan says she hopes its longer-than-expected lifespan helps secure funding for future research.
“You know these rovers kept doing great science for very little money and that’s something that I think NASA has really tried to keep going is these end-of-mission huge scientific successes for not very much money at all,” she says.
Horgan is now one of the scientists working with the latest Mars rover, Curiosity and on the 2020 Mars rover mission. She says the information Opportunity was able to collect on the history of water on Mars has helped with research at Purdue.
“My students and I do a lot of work looking at a lot of the chemistry of the mud stones and other things that were left behind by these ancient watery environments to try to figure out where we should go looking for life in the next steps,” says Horgan.
That research helped establish the landing site for the 2020 Mars rover.