Even I Could Beat NASA’s Opportunity Rover at a Marathon
Opportunity view of Mars

I’ve never ran a marathon before, but even I could beat NASA’s Opportunity rover. NASA is celebrating the accomplishment of their hardy rover. On Tuesday, it passed 26.219 miles. It’s time? 11 years and 2 months.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” said John Callas, the Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). “A first time happens only once.”

The Opportunity team are going to celebrate the accomplishment with a marathon-length relay run at JPL next week.

“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,” said Steve Squyres, Opportunity principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. “Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”

What does a marathon look like on Mars? Check out the image below to see where Opportunity has been.

Opportunity Marathon

The Opportunity rover also holds the record for longest distance travelled by off-Earth vehicles. Last year, it topped the distance travelled by former Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover. That rover travelled 24 miles in a five month period in 1973. NASA made a cool infographic last year showing off the distances travelled by other rovers.

Rover driving distances

Opportunity Won’t Stop

The Opportunity rover just won’t stop. The mission was originally scheduled to last about 90 days in 2004. 11 years later and it’s still kicking.

The press release notes some of Opportunity’s achievements since landing in 2004.

Opportunity’s original three-month prime mission in 2004 yielded evidence of environments with liquid water soaking the ground and flowing on planet’s surface. As the rover continued to operate far beyond expectations for its lifespan, scientists chose the rim of Endeavour Crater as a long-term destination. Since 2011, examinations of Endeavour’s rim have provided information about ancient wet conditions less acidic, and more favorable for microbial life, than the environment that left clues found earlier in the mission.

Opportunity has also seen its share of close calls. In 2005, Opportunity found itself stuck in a sand dune. Its hopes of a marathon were almost dashed. But, scientists spent six weeks simulating ways to get the rover unstuck. They eventually got Opportunity free by moving the rover a few centimeters at a time.

More recently, Opportunity started suffering from ‘amnesia.’ The rover failed to write data such as telemetry information to its memory. NASA believes one of its seven memory banks finally got too old. A software fix was planned to force the rover to ignore the failed memory bank. On March 20, reformatting of the rover’s memory was completed.

The Opportunity rover has smashed all expectations. Who knows how much longer the little rover can go.

Image credit: NASA. Top image: A view of ‘Marathon Valley’ from the Opportunity rover.

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