Solar System Record: Mars Rover Drives 25 Miles

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NASA’s long-lived Mars rover Opportunity broke another record this weekend. In addition to 10.5 years of operations on Mars, the rover now holds the off-Earth mileage record.

With a 157-foot (48 meter) drive along the western rim of Endeavour Crater this weekend, Opportunity’s odometer now tallies 25.01 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The previous record for off-world roving was set by the former Soviet Union’s robotic lunar explorer Lunokhod 2 in 1973.

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Lunokhod 2 drove about 24.2 miles (39 km) in less than five months, analysis of track images taken by NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter shows.

Rendering of Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity.
NASA/JPL-Caltech

“It has been a real honor to follow in their historical wheel tracks,” Opportunity lead scientist Steve Squyres, with Cornell University, said in a statement.

“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. We’re in a second golden age now,” he said.

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Opportunity and its now-defunct rover twin, Spirit, were not designed for long-distance travel. The original mission duration was to be 90 days, during which the rovers would each travel about .62 miles (1 km).

Scientists are hoping Opportunity will last at least until it reaches a site called “Marathan Valley,” another 1.2 miles away. Images from Mars orbiters show the area contains exposed clay minerals, a telltale sign of past water.

NASA also has a second, more sophisticated Mars rover named Curiosity that is searching for places that that could have supported and preserved microbial life. Curiosity landed inside the Gale Crater impact basin on Aug. 6, 2012.

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