Mars Rover “Opportunity” Sets Distance Record

Rear view image

Rear view image

 

NASA’s long-lived Opportunity Mars rover is the new American champion of off-planet driving, breaking a distance record set more than 40 years ago by an Apollo moon buggy.

Flashback:

[Eugene Cernan on the moon:] “Okay, here we go.”

Astronaut Eugene Cernan firing up the Apollo 17 lunar roving vehicle for the first time, back in 1972.

The front wheels turn. I can’t see the rear ones,

but I know the front ones turn, and it does move. Hallelujah.”

Apollo 17 mission on Moon, 11 December 1972

Apollo 17 mission on Moon, 11 December 1972 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The astronauts drove their moon buggy 35.74 kilometers, more than any other NASA off-world rover. That mark stood for more than four decades. But now it belongs to the tiny rover Opportunity, still spinning its wheels on Mars.

The six-wheeled Opportunity rover drove 263 feet (80 meters) On Wednesday May 16th, bringing Opportunity’s total odometer hit (22.220 miles) 35.76 kilometers to roll into NASA’s record books. The robot is definitely more tortoise than hare—it took Opportunity almost a decade on Mars to break the record that Apollo 17 set in three days on the moon.

Apollo 17 moon rover, which astronauts Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt drove for 22.210 miles (35.744 km) across the lunar surface in December 1972.

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.

Lunokhod-2

 But, Opportunity still trails another robot for the international distance record. The Soviet Union’s remote-controlled Lunokhod 2 rover traveled 23 miles (37 km) on the moon in 1973.

off planet Driving Record Data: This chart illustrates comparisons among the distances driven by various wheeled vehicles on the surface of Earth’s moon and Mars. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The golf-cart-size Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed on Mars in January 2004 on three-month missions to search for signs of past water activity on the Red Planet. They found plenty of such evidence, then kept on roving.

Spirit stopped communicating with Earth in 2010 and was declared dead a year later. But Opportunity is still going strong, 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 (2.2 km) away, NASA officials said.

MARS ROVER "OPPORTUNITY"

MARS ROVER “OPPORTUNITY”

So the rover could soon put Lunokhod 2 in its rear-view mirror, claiming the overall off-planet driving mark as well. Opportunity’s handlers have said they’d like to add this milestone to the rover’s resume, though science remains the mission’s top priority.

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

Next up: the Soviet Lunokhod 2 moon rover, which tracked some 37 kilometers. So Opportunity now has the U.S. record, but it still has about a kilometer to go to break the world—or should I say solar system—record.

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Along with thanks and compliments to the sources for the shared data

 SPACE.com, ScientificAmerican

Creative Commons Copyright © Shanepedia 2012

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