NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity Breaks Record For Off-Planet Driving By A US Made Vehicle

NASA’s relentless solar-powered Mars rover Opportunity has now set a new record — greatest distance traveled by a US made vehicle on another world. The Opportunity rover was originally scheduled only for a three-month mission that began back in January 2004, but the solar-powered rover has shown itself to be quite tough and long-lasting — greatly outlasting the original mission.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State University
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State University

The new record set by Opportunity eclipses a record set more than 40 years ago by the Apollo moon buggy. Opportunity has traveled 22.220 miles on the Red Planet. The previous record was 22.210 miles, held by the Apollo 17 moon rover, which was driven by the astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt across the lunar surface in December 1972. The new US record is still about a mile under the world record — 23 miles — held by the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on the Moon in 1973.

“The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity,” Cernan said a few days ago in a conversation with Opportunity team member Jim Rice, of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., space agency officials said.

The Mars rover Opportunity, along with its twin, Spirit, began their mission on Mars in order to look for evidence of past water activity on the planet, which thy both found.

Spirit, while lastly greatly linger than was originally expected, did finally give out in 2010, ceasing communication, and being declared “dead” by NASA. Opportunity, though, is still going strong. the Mars rover is currently on exploring the rim of Mars’ Endeavour Crater.

“Opportunity had been working at a section of the rim dubbed ‘Cape York’ since the middle of 2011. But this week it began trekking toward an area called Solander Point, which lies 1.4 miles away.”

So it’s looking very likely that Opportunity will soon surpass Lunokhod 2’s record, taking the record for overall off-planet driving as well.

Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

“I want to beat that record,” John Callas, Opportunity’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., told last year, at a time when the rover’s odometer read 21.35 miles (34.4 km).

It’s possible though that the Mars rover Curiosity may be able to surpass both records, though that may not be for awhile…

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