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Jan 05, 2017 07:10 AM EST

Remembering Spirit: NASA's Mars Rover Celebrates 13th Anniversary

Marks made by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit
Marks made by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover, Spirit
(Photo : NASA/Jet Propulsion Laboratory/ Cornell University via Getty Images)

NASA's Mars rover, Spirit, has recently celebrated its 13th anniversary. Exactly 13 years ago, on Jan. 3, the space agency began its Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission with the six-wheeled robot.

Space.com reported that Spirit landed on the Red Planet on the night of Jan. 3, 2004. Its twin, named Opportunity, came to Mars three weeks later. The two rovers were tasked to look for signs of past water activity in the area where they landed. Initially, the search was only supposed to last for three months. However, both Spirit and Opportunity kept on for years.

NASA officials confirmed that Spirit got stuck on soft Martian sand last Apr. 2009. It was not able to reorient its solar panels to track the sun and eventually froze to death. Its last communication arrived to Earth in Mar. 2010. A year later, Spirit was declared dead - after putting in a total of 4.8 miles (or 7.73 kilometers) on its odometer.

According to Space Flight Insider, Spirit was responsible for several "firsts" in its Mars mission. it was able to identify the rocks surrounding Gusev Crater to be majorly basaltic in make-up, which suggested that the area had had water and volcanic forces.

Spirit also took pictures of Earth from Mars. This made it the first explorer to take an image of our home planet from the surface of another planet. In 2006, Spirit lost one of its wheels and drove in reverse afterwards. At one point, it was able to find freshly-dredged soil which was bright white in color.

Scientists believe that this could have been silica. On Earth, silica was formed when some minerals react with hot water. This suggested that the area may have been, at one point in time, wet and warm enough to be favorable for habitat. Spirit has definitely paved the way for NASA's future Mars plans. Other companies have also stated their plans to go on the Red Planet.

Recently, China vowed that it will work double time on the development of its space industry. Along with the 2020 Mars probe announcement, the country has also announced that it aims to be the first to land a probe on the far side of the moon by 2018.

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