The view from within Victoria Crater. Craters expose rocks, like the ones in the foreground and the ridges in the distance, which allowed researchers to get a clearer picture of Mars' history.
On January 25, 2004, a strange object fell out of the sky on a distant planet—and when it hit the surface, it started to bounce. Even though that airbag-cushioned descent was exactly how things were planned, it wasn't exactly an elegant start to what's turned out to be a record-setting journey for the Opportunity, which continues to operate long past its minimal mission time of 90 days.
Opportunity may be notable for its longevity and all the scientific data that it's sent back to Earth over the past decade. But it's also notable in how the rover has set standards for what we expect exploration missions to look like, from the hardware to the media coverage. When the mission is appreciated in its full context, it becomes a story that goes well beyond the little rover that could; it's the story of a mission that ushered NASA into a new era of space exploration.
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