All eyes will be on the new Mars rover Curiosity when it lands in just over two weeks, but lest we forget, NASA's indefatigable Mars rover Opportunity is still rolling along, too. The rover has driven about 22 miles, which prompted some Olympic-minded NASA people to realize the rover is nearing marathon distance. It will be the first interplanetary marathon.
This is made all the more impressive by the fact that Opportunity and its late twin, Spirit, were designed to drive about one-third of a mile in total. And the fact that Opportunity drives about 160 to 330 feet a day. Granted, it flew a long way to even get to the starting line: "This particular marathoner had to fly about 283 million miles across space before being unceremoniously drop-bounced on the Martian surface," said Ray Arvidson, the mission's deputy principal investigator, told NASA Science News.
Its main mission has been to look for water, and both rovers have found slam-dunk evidence that the Red Planet used to be a wet planet. Opportunity first found evidence of water at a site called Eagle Crater, and then spent the next few years driving around deeper and larger craters nearby. Since August of last year, it's been exploring Endeavour Crater, after traversing tricky Martian terrain "with no aid stations anywhere," as NASA Science cheekily puts it. It even had to drive backwards for a while after a wheel injury.
At Endeavour, Opportunity found some of its best evidence yet, including fractured rock filled with gypsum. Gypsum forms in the presence of water, and likely in more pH-neutral (and life-hospitable) conditions. Just a few weeks ago, the rover awoke from a winter slumber and left its winter resting place, Greeley Haven, to do some more exploring. There's still plenty of work to do, so a 26.2 mile total is certainly within the realm of possibility. Learn more about Opportunity's journey in this video.
Opportunity has been a constant source of wonderment. My fingers are crossed soooooo tightly for a successful Curiosity landing.
If they someone to go to Mars as a one way trip and spend their entire life exploring, I volunteer.
Just occasional send food supplies of hot pockets, cheetos and mountain dew I will be fine. ;)
I am still amazed at how much we've learned from such a small plot of land. Think about doing that on Earth, trying to figure out if life or water existed by only looking at a 30 mile long 2 foot wide path. It is very impressive already, so multiply those findings by a few millino 30mile x 2ft strips to cover the planet. Looking forward to the findings of the new rover!
Playing Devil's Advocate since 1978
"The only constant in the universe is change"
-Heraclitus of Ephesus 535 BC - 475 BC
Why is the Red planet, salmon pink and blue all of a sudden. I guess NASA never doctor's pictures?? LOL
@CodeZero, What is an alien civilization landed a probe in the Sahara desert, and it traveled for 30 miles on a 2ft long path then died. They would thing earth is a desert planet, with no water, and no life, (assuming no fossils are in the 1 1st 2 feet of sand). Same with Mars, we are landing in the wrong place (on purpose). Why don't they send their probes to cydonia so we can see the pyramids and super structures, or send them to the poles where there is water and vegetation. NASA = Never A Straight Answer
You make good points. Prior to going to Mars, there were already in place good estimates of where life 'might' likely be and NASA does seem to be exploring in the wrong places. ....... strange, huh?
When they find that plants on mars, and fossils on mars has the same DNA as those on earth, scientists will be forced to re-write their whole theory of evolution.
Life does not happen by chance, life is a product..or maybe a by-product of this physical plane.
why don't they send the next rovers w/batterys and fuel to repair/recharge...the first two. kinda have them interact and so on...until we have a small colony of old and new rovers looking and inspecting all around?