NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover has completed its first extraterrestrial marathon when it travelled 23.221 miles which is just a whisker over the distance of a marathon race.
The Mars Rover had arrived on the red planet some 11 years and 2 months ago. The Opportunity Rover which is about the size of a Golf Cart came to the Red Planet on January 24, 2004.
John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, said in a statement, “This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world. A first time happens only once.”
Opportunity travelled about 46.5 meters today which took it close to a location dubbed Marathon Valley, located on the rim of Endeavour Crater. The Rover has been moving along the western rim of the crater since August 2011.
Steve Squyres, Opportunity principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York said, “This mission isn’t about setting distance records, of course. It’s about making scientific discoveries on Mars and inspiring future explorers to achieve even more. Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”
Another rover named Spirit had landed on the Martian planet about three weeks before the landing of Opportunity. Both the rovers were sent to find evidence of past water activity on the planet. Booth the rovers continued to chug along until Spirit stopped communicating in 2010 when it got stuck in loose sand. It was declared dead a year later.
Opportunity continues to chug along though it is also showing signs of aging. Its robotic arm is getting increasingly creaky and arthritic. Since late 2014, opportunity was afflicted with a memory issue which has been recently rectified after a software upgrade.
The Opportunity Rover is presently studying a small crater named St. Louis, which lies just west of Marathon Valley. It has spotted clay minerals which is an indication of a wet environment in the past.