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Wild rovers celebrate 10 years of Mars exploration

The initial plan was for ‘Spirit’ and ‘Opportunity’ to spend just a few months trundling around the surface of Mars. But they kept on trucking

Nasa’s Curiosity rover, a mobile robot for investigating the red planet’s past or present ability to sustain microbial life. Image: Reuters/Nasa-JPL/Handout

Time flies when you’re roving on Mars – it has been a decade since the two robotic rovers Spirit and Opportunity touched down on the red planet. They are not the first gadgets to send us data from Mars, but they have been remarkably successful.

The Nasa rovers, which were launched separately from Cape Canaveral in Florida, bounced on to the surface of Mars protected by airbags. The initial plan was for the wheeled rovers to spend just a few months trundling around the surface of Mars collecting data. But they kept on trucking.

Spirit, which reached Mars in early January 2004, worked for several years gathering information about the planet’s surface chemistry and features. In 2009 it became stuck in sand and in 2010 it stopped transmitting back to Earth.

Opportunity, which landed a few weeks after its “twin” in 2004, has sent back information from numerous craters on the surface of Mars, particularly about evidence of surface water in the past. It’s still going strong in 2014.

In 2012 another rover joined the fold. Curiosity has been drilling into the planet’s surface and finding sulphur, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus and carbon in the powder.

You can get updates on Twitter at @MarsCuriosity, and there’s even a parody account, @SarcasticRover. Plus, Lego has released its version of the mobile Martian lab.