By by Mike Wall, Senior Writer
Ten years ago today, NASA dropped the first of two rovers onto the surface of Mars, kicking off a wildly successful mission that continues to beam home data about the Red Planet and its wetter, warmer past.
NASA's Spirit rover touched down on the night of Jan. 3, 2004 (Jan. 4 GMT), followed three weeks later by its twin, Opportunity. The two robots were originally supposed to explore Mars for 90 days, searching their disparate landing sites for signs of past water activity on the Red Planet.
Both rovers found plenty of such evidence and just kept chugging along, far outlasting their warranties. Spirit got stuck in a sand trap in 2010 and was declared dead a year later, but Opportunity continues to operate today and shows no signs of slowing down. [10 Amazing Mars Discoveries by Spirit & Opportunity]
"Opportunity is still in excellent health for a vehicle of its age," mission project manager John Callas, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., said in a statement. "The biggest science may still be ahead of us, even after 10 years of exploration."
The discoveries made by the golf-cart-size Spirit and Opportunity over the years have fundamentally reshaped scientists' understanding of Mars and its dynamic history, rover team members say. ...more