Updated:
Original:
Year
2004
Month Day
January 03

The Mars Exploration Rover "Spirit" safely lands on the Red Planet

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit lands on the Red Planet on January 3, 2004. 21 days later, its twin, Opportunity, also arrived safely. In one of the longest and most successful missions in NASA history, Spirit would survey Martian geography for the next seven years, while Opportunity remained active until June of 2018.

The rovers' primary mission was expected to last 90 sols, the term used for Martian days. In March, scientists announced that they had made a momentous discovery: a survey of Martian rocks strongly suggested that water had once flowed there, and analysis of Opportunity's landing site indicated that it had once been the bed of a salty sea. Later in 2004, Opportunity also discovered the first meteorite to be found on Mars.

The rovers continued to explore Mars for several years, with Spirit becoming a "stationary research platform" after getting stuck in sand. Spirit eventually fell out of contact with NASA, which declared its mission over in 2011. Opportunity, however, continued exploring. In 2014, it broke the record for longest distance driven by an off-Earth wheeled vehicle, and the next year NASA celebrated as Opportunity finished a "marathon," having traversed over 26.2 miles. In February 2019, NASA announced the end of the MER mission after Opportunity ceased responding to their communications. The rover had broken several other records, including the highest elevation reached on Mars, and sent back 224,642 images. Having far surpassed its original goals and contributed greatly to human understanding of Mars and its potential to host life, the MER mission had a major impact on mankind's knowledge of our solar system.

READ MORE: The Amazing Handmade Tech That Powered Apollo 11’s Moon Voyage

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us!

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Noriega surrenders to U.S.

On this day in 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the ...read more

Martin Luther excommunicated

On January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X issues the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, which excommunicates Martin Luther from the Catholic Church. Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, was a professor of biblical interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany ...read more

King Tut’s sarcophagus uncovered

Two years after British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen near Luxor, Egypt, they uncover the greatest treasure of the tomb–a stone sarcophagus containing a solid gold coffin that holds the mummy of Tutankhamen. When Carter ...read more

Meiji Restoration in Japan

In an event that heralds the birth of modern Japan, patriotic samurai from Japan’s outlying domains join with anti-shogunate nobles in restoring the emperor to power after 700 years. The impetus for the coup was a fear by many Japanese that the nation’s feudal leaders were ill ...read more

Jack Ruby dies before second trial

On January 3, 1967, Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, dies of cancer in a Dallas hospital. The Texas Court of Appeals had recently overturned his death sentence for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and was scheduled ...read more

Alaska admitted into Union

On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signs a special proclamation admitting the territory of Alaska into the Union as the 49th and largest state. The European discovery of Alaska came in 1741, when a Russian expedition led by Danish navigator Vitus Bering sighted the Alaskan ...read more

The husband did it: The controversial Stuart case

Matthew Stuart meets with Boston prosecutors and tells them that his brother, Charles, was actually the person responsible for murdering Charles’s wife, Carol. The killing of Carol Stuart, who was pregnant at the time, on October 23, 1989, had touched off a national outrage when ...read more

Delaware rejects secession

On this day in 1861, just two weeks after South Carolina became the first state to secede from the Union, the state of Delaware rejects a similar proposal. There had been little doubt that Delaware would remain with the North. Delaware was technically a slave state, but the ...read more

The Battle of Princeton

In a stroke of strategic genius, General George Washington manages to evade conflict with General Charles Cornwallis, who had been dispatched to Trenton to bag the fox (Washington), and wins several encounters with the British rear guard, as it departs Princeton for Trenton, New ...read more

MacArthur and Nimitz given new commands

On this day, in preparation for planned assaults against Iwo Jima, Okinawa, and mainland Japan, Gen. Douglas MacArthur is placed in command of all U.S. ground forces and Adm. Chester Nimitz is placed in command of all U.S. naval forces. This effectively ended the concept of ...read more