NASA’s Opportunity rover breaks distance record

The rover is close to completing the first marathon on another world

Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Of the vehicles shown, NASA's Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity are the only active rovers.

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover has broken an out-of-this-world record. After driving over 40km over the surface of Mars, it now holds the record for the longest roving distance off-Earth and it's not planning on stopping anytime soon.

On 27 July 2014, Opportunity's odometer hit 40.25km, only 2km away from completing the first extra-terrestrial marathon.

“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas. “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”

The rover drove over 32km across the planet’s surface before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011. Ever since then it has been examining the outcrops along the craters rim, revealing an ancient environment containing clay and sulfate-bearing minerals, vastly different from what it found at its landing site. It’s these differences across the surface that rovers have to travel so far for, examining a wide range of sites to give scientists a full picture of the Martian landscape.

Record breaking rovers

The NASA rover has overtaken the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on the Moon on 15 January 1973 and drove about 39km across the lunar surface. It managed the feat in just five months, considerably quicker than the 10 years Opportunity has taken to overtake it. The team at NASA decided to name a nearby 6m crater Lunokhod 2 Crater in honour of the rover

“The Lunokhod missions still stand as two signature accomplishments of what I think of as the first golden age of planetary exploration, the 1960s and 70s,” says Steve Squyres principal investigator for NASA's twin Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. “We're in a second golden age now, and what we've tried to do on Mars with Spirit and Opportunity has been very much inspired by the accomplishments of the Lunokhod team on the Moon so many years ago. It has been a real honour to follow in their historical wheel tracks.”



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