Ten years ago, when the rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars as part of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover mission, engineers expected them to each last 90 Martian days, about three months of Earth time. Spirit lasted a remarkable six years before getting stuck in soft sand, and ultimately losing radio contact with its minders on Earth.
Compared to Opportunity, though, Spirit was a flash in the pan. Hundreds of millions of miles away in the bitter Martian cold, Opportunity has kept on ticking—exploring new areas, taking scientific measurements and capturing beautiful photos—this entire time.
As part of a new exhibition at the National Air and Space Museum, "Spirit and Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars," John Grant and other scientists involved with the mission have curated 50 of the most scientifically significant and visually stunning photos taken by the rovers over the years from a collection of several hundred thousand images.
"It's a mix of travelogue landscapes—the kind of thing that I took when I was a kid, driving across the country—with science," Grant said at the exhibition's opening. "Every one of these images that you see here tells a story of discovery, one that goes along with a story of the pure beauty of Mars."
"Spirit and Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars" is on view at the National Air and Space Museum through September 14, 2014.