NASA’s rover Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004. Since then, the rover has exceeded expectations from its initial 3-month mission. This week, the durable explorer reached yet another milestone: Opportunity journeyed more than 5.7 miles (9.17 kilometers) from Endurance Crater to Victoria Crater.
Initial images show Victoria possesses rough, layered walls and is nearly five times wider than stadium-size Endurance. The opposite end of the crater is about half a mile (.8 km) from Opportunity.
“This is a geologist’s dream-come-true,” says Steve Squyres, principal investigator for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission. “Those layers of rock, if we can get to them, will tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago. We especially want to learn whether the wet era that we found recorded in the rocks closer to the landing site extended farther back in time. The way to find that out is to go deeper, and Victoria may let us do that.”
“We’re so proud of Opportunity, the rover that takes a lickin’ but keeps on tickin’,” says Cindy Oda, a mission manager. “It continues to overcome all challenges despite its aging parts and difficult terrain. We are looking forward to exciting new discoveries as Opportunity begins its new adventure exploring Victoria Crater.”
What about Opportunity’s equally resilient twin, Spirit?
The industrious explorer is located south of the equator, halfway around the Red Planet. Spirit is parked, in a northward position, to register a maximum energy supply for its solar panels during the martian winter. It will begin driving again in the martian spring.
During October, the rover team will minimize operations for both rovers as the Red Planet passes nearly behind the Sun from our view. From this position, radio communication with Spirit and Opportunity are more difficult than normal.