NASA’s Mars rover, Opportunity, is clocking some serious distance. On July 27, it whipped past 25 miles traveled on the surface of Mars. This beats the record of 24.2 miles covered by Soviet rover Lunokhod 2, which covered 24.2 miles on the moon’s surface in 1973.
What makes the feat remarkable is that Opportunity was never built for endurance. It’s original mission was to roll about a kilometer and conduct experiments in a small area. Instead, the rover is living up to its name, and is taking every opportunity to impress scientists back on Earth. More distance covered equals more data and experiments. Sorry, still no aliens found.
John Callas, Opportunity’s project manager at JPL talked about the feat and what it means. “Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world. This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”
Sensing the history of their accomplishment, the Opportunity team is quick to laud the efforts of the Lunokhod team. A crater that Opportunity has been exploring was even named after the moon rover.
While there is some disagreement about how far Lunokhod 2 traveled, NASA firmly believes that Opportunity has surpassed the miles traveled off-planet by a wheeled vehicle. The rover is closing in on rolling a marathon on the surface of Mars if it can roll just a mile more.
Judging by its endurance over the past few years, there’s little reason to doubt it will hit that mark and surpass it. The Mars rover is definitely living up to its name.
The team at NASA is pointing it towards an area they have nicknamed ‘Marathon Valley’. Here’s to it rolling past and aiming for an ultra-marathon distance on the surface of Mars.
NASA’s other rover, Curiosity, touched down in 2012. It is still rolling around, but it is a ways off before its odometer clocks over into double-digit miles.