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I was reading fastest trip to the moon and that question got me in the mood for asking "what's the record for X" style questions. I thought of 5-10 but I'll limit myself to one because they're not particularly... well thought out or researched. Anyhow, I want to find the longest operational surface probe judged as follows:

  • Anything (rovers, probes, cameras, sensors, etc...) counts as long as it's on the surface of another body and is able to transmit data back to Earth.
  • Only the time after the object has landed on a foreign body should count towards the time.
  • Impacting is not counted as 0 seconds, the probe must soft land on the body.
  • Transit time from Earth to X does not count, even atmospheric entry.
  • Only objects that are functional count, if a probe stops transmitting, that's its end time.

If there is a period of time the probe was not functional, just make sure to mention it. But you don't need to do calculations to remove that amount of time unless you want.

I'm guessing it would be one of the Mars rovers for longest and a Venus or the Huygens Titan probe for shortest, but I'm ready to be surprised as well :).

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    $\begingroup$ I don't know the longest, but a good bet for the shortest is Mars 3 - operated on surface for 20 seconds. $\endgroup$ – Organic Marble Jul 18 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble oof, that's unfortunate, why did they go ahead with landing during a massive dust-storm? Did they not know about it previously? Or did they, but the trajectories were already set up with little chance for adjustments? $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 18 at 17:38
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    $\begingroup$ Not technically a probe by themselves, and not quite the longest (though 8 years is pretty darn long), but worth noting: Why were the “perfectly functioning” seismometers placed by Apollo 12, 14, 15 and 16 astronauts all shut off in 1977? $\endgroup$ – uhoh Jul 18 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ @uhoh you could write that as an answer. I think both hyabusa and mars 3 were good choices. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 25 at 13:27
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The shortest time a probe has landed on another celestial body was the Hayabusa developed by JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency). It landed on an asteroid called "2513 Itokawa" and it stayed there for about 1 second where it gathered a tiny amount of dust samples. After that 1 second, it headed back to earth to return the samples. So technically, this is the shortest time a probe has spent on the surface of another celestial body.

Hayabusa sampling 2513 Itokawa Hayabusa2 sampling Ryugu. There is no picture of Hayabusa landing on Itokawa. This is the closest.

Edit: The Hayabusa probe did land and sit on the asteroid for about 30 minutes, however it was not transmitted to earth so I figured that it didn't count. Hayabusa actually touched down on 2513 Itokawa 2 times. The longest being 30 minutes on November 19, 2005, and the shortest on November 25, 2005 where it touched the surface for about 1 second. So technically speaking, Hayabusa had multiple encounters with it and the shortest was 1 second. If it doesn't count, then the new winner for the shortest time spent on the surface of another celestial body is (as previous comments have stated) Mars 3 which transmitted data for 20 seconds after landing.

The longest however is the Opportunity Rover (R.I.P Opportunity), no surprise there, which operated for 15 years and was intended to last only 90 days.

Sources: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_landings_on_extraterrestrial_bodies https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8362-hayabusa-touched-asteroid-itokawa-after-all/ https://www.cnn.com/2019/02/13/world/nasa-mars-opportunity-rover-trnd/index.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mars_3#Entry,_descent,_landing,_and_transmission_failure

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  • $\begingroup$ The Hyabusa is a great call, adding a few citations would definitely help the answer out a little. Also, I assumed it'd be Oppy, but citations to at least cement the 15 years would be great :). I know very little about china's lunar rovers and other non-NASA missions involving landers so I didn't want to jump to any conclusions here. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 18 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ I did a mistake when answering this question. The image in my answer is actually Hayabusa2 landing on Ryugu, not Hayabusa landing on Itokawa. There is no image of Hayabusa physically landing on Itokawa so I figured that Hayabusa2 would be the closest thing in order to visualize how it landed. And just to clarify, Hayabusa landed on Itokawa twice, one for 30 mins and another for 1 second. I edited and fixed my mistake. $\endgroup$ – StarMan Jul 19 at 0:15
  • $\begingroup$ I was wondering where you found the 1 second tid-bit, I could not :). Thanks for the sources. $\endgroup$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jul 19 at 12:02

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