Opportunity Tops Martian Mountain! Milestone Achievement 11 Years After Touchdown Reveals Stunning Vista

Stunning new mountain top view from NASA’s Opportunity rover after reaching summit of Cape Tribulation in January 2015 nearly eleven years after Martian touchdown.  Panoramic scene shows vast expanse of Endeavour Crater from highest mountain rover will ever climb. See rover solar panels at right and wheel tracks at left.  This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3894, Jan. 6, 2015 and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com

Stunning new mountain top vista from NASA’s Opportunity rover after reaching summit of Cape Tribulation in January 2015 nearly 11 years after Martian touchdown. Panoramic scene shows vast expanse of Endeavour Crater from highest mountain rover will ever climb. See crater rim expanding out from center and rover solar panels at right and wheel tracks at left. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3894, Jan. 6, 2015 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Almost exactly 3900 Sols into her planned three-month mission, NASA’s world-renowned Opportunity rover climbed proudly atop the tallest Martian mountain she will ever ascend, achieving a “milestone that can’t be underestimated,” Prof. Steve Squyres, the rover’s Science Principal Investigator of Cornell University, said exclusively to AmericaSpace, today, soon after signals were received that the astonishing event took place.

“Yes, we’re at the summit,” confirmed Squyres, who has led the rover mission during more than a decade and a half of conception, development, launch, landing, and breathtaking science operations across the stunningly beautiful but inhospitable surface floor of the alien Red Planet. See Mars as it looks today in our exclusive new mosaic above.

“The symbolic value of reaching a major summit on Mars eleven years into a 90-day mission can’t be underestimated,” noted Squyres. And it’s especially gratifying because the rover has suffered some significant problems recently with the flash memory and been somewhat “crippled.”

“We’re having difficulties with our aging flash memory, and until we can correct the problem we’re operating the vehicle in a ‘crippled mode’ that bypasses flash completely.”

The six-wheeled Opportunity rover has reached the summit of Cape Tribulation nearly 11 years after her daunting air-bag assisted and bouncing ball touchdown on 24 January 2004 on Mars, and rolling to a stop after falling inside Eagle crater. It amounted to a 250-million-mile hole-in-one!

“The drive that put us on the summit was executed on Sol 3894 [Jan. 6, 2015],” said Squyres.

“I am tremendously happy and proud of the team!”

Initial images reveal a spectacular view from the summit. See above our brand new panoramic mosaic compilation view from Sol 3894—where the rover sits right now!—created for AmericaSpace by Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover scans to the summit of Cape Tribulation less than 100 meters distant in mid-December 2014 with hi res pancam camera.  Beyond lie caches of clay minerals. The scene shows impact breccias and thin soil cover with cobbles over bedrock.  This pancam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3871, Dec. 13, 2014 and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com/ Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover scans to the summit of Cape Tribulation less than 100 meters distant in mid-December 2014 with hi res pancam camera. Beyond lie caches of clay minerals. The scene shows impact breccias and thin soil cover with cobbles over bedrock. This pancam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3871, Dec. 13, 2014 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/ Marco Di Lorenzo

Humanity’s longest living rover reached the summit of Cape Tribulation while traversing southward along gigantic Endeavour crater. This counts as the highest Martian mountain she will ever scale in her unbelievably incredible and momentous life of exploration and discovery.

NASA’s long-term goal is to send Humans to Mars in the 2030s, and Opportunity and sister rover Curiosity are paving the path to the Red Planet.

As of today, the rover stands at an elevation of about 1380 meters overlooking humongous Endeavour crater, spanning some 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.

So the view is incomparable to anything we’ve seen thus far.

Additional high-resolution imagery is being taken now by the Pancam camera.

“It should be a great view into the crater, along the rim, and of the rocks that form the summit,” said Squyres.

The mountain peak is called “Summit Lithology,” Prof. Ray Arvidson, the rover Deputy Principal Investigator of Washington University told AmericaSpace.

Cape Tribulation is located along the eroded western rim segment of Endeavour crater.

She arrived at Endeavour in August 2011 at another rim segment to the north named “Cape York” after a multiyear traverse across the plains of Meridiani Planum.

Boeing image of a Delta II launch vehicle with Mars Exploration Rover MER opportunity photo credit The Boeing Company

Opportunity launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in July 2003, arriving on Mars a little more than six months later. Photo Credit: The Boeing Company

Furthermore, Opportunity has accomplished the first overland expedition across the surface of another planet. Mars is the most Earth-like planet in our Solar System.

You can see the entire 11-year overland traverse of Opportunity and her current location in our exclusive route map below.

“A spectacular Pancam view was returned on sol 3894 showing Shoemaker formation brecccias and part of the crater interior,” Arvidson explained.

Opportunity will likely spend the remainder of her robotic life traveling around and investigating Endeavour’s magnificent and vast expanse.

Reaching the crater rim peak at last is an especially sweet feat for the team, because the daunting task was accomplished while the rover suffered a series of near crippling “amnesia” events in recent months of the ascent.

“I think this milestone is particularly significant because we accomplished the steepest and hardest parts of it in what we call ‘crippled mode’. We’re having difficulties with our aging flash memory, and until we can correct the problem we’re operating the vehicle in a mode that bypasses flash completely,” Squyres elaborated.

So the team was resourceful in the face of a big challenge and developed workarounds to save the rover and the science!

“What that means is that after each sol’s activities, any data not downlinked immediately is lost forever. This requires a very different way of operating the vehicle, and the team has mastered it.”

“We expect to address the flash problem in the near future, but what this accomplishment shows is that the rover is not crippled in ‘crippled mode’. It’s just a little forgetful. :)”

Now that Opportunity has climbed atop the mountain, the rover is collecting images and spectral data and reevaluating the way forward plan.

“We will get additional Pancam color data. How much is being considered as we communicate with one another,” Arvidson explained.

“The area looks very much like a sediment shaped by wind. Thin soil cover, with cobbles, over bedrock.”

“The scientific value of reaching the summit depends on the lithology of the rocks there, and we haven’t made that measurement yet,” Squyres added.

What observations are planned at the peak in the near term?

“A big Pancam panorama, of course, and then a closer looks at the summit rocks if the Pancams suggest it’ll be worthwhile,” replied Sqyures.

The real science riches lie about a half a kilometer beyond and down slope, in an area called “Marathon Valley.”

“We are about 500 meters from ‘Spirit of Saint Louis’ crater at the entrance to Marathon Valley (named because the rover will have traveled one marathon’s distance to reach it)!” said Arvidson.

NASA Opportunity rovers current location near the summit of Cape Tribulation in late Dec 2014 on Sol 3875 is shown in this prior panoramic view looking south along the rim of Endeavour crater. It is centered on the highest part of the rim of Cape Tribulation. It was acquired back on sol 3767 and shows the subsequent traverse of Opportunity as a yellow line. Note that Opportunities traverse drops out of view periodically as it negotiates valleys between ridges.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/NMMNHS/Larry Crumpler

NASA Opportunity rovers current location near the summit of Cape Tribulation in late December 2014 on Sol 3875 is shown in this prior panoramic view looking south along the rim of Endeavour crater. It is centered on the highest part of the rim of Cape Tribulation. It was acquired back on sol 3767 and shows the subsequent traverse of Opportunity as a yellow line. Note that Opportunities traverse drops out of view periodically as it negotiates valleys between ridges. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/NMMNHS/Larry Crumpler

Arriving at Cape Tribulation has been a long-sought goal of the science team because it puts the six-wheeled rover by a region of clay minerals that’s a scientific goldmine. The phyllosilicate clay minerals formed in neutral liquid water billions of years ago when the Red Planet was far warmer and wetter and thus much more conducive to the formation of Martian microbes, if they ever existed.

What’s the driving and science plan ahead?

“Well, the next major stop after this one will be ‘Spirit of St. Louis’ crater, which lies to the west of Marathon Valley,” Squyres replied.

“And then into Marathon Valley itself.”

“The view at the summit is spectacular,” according to rover science team member Larry Crumpler, of the New Mexico Museum of Natural History & Science (NMMNHS), in an update.

“From here we can see all the way to the other side of the crater, we can see the rim looking north along the path to this location, and we can see far to the south, including another large impact crater that lies 10 km or so south of Endeavour.”

Opportunity rovers current location by the summit of Cape Tribulation in late Dec. 2014 on Sol 3884 is shown in this prior panoramic navcam mosaic view looking south along the rim of Endeavour crater on Sol 3309 on May 15, 2013, where she discovered clay minerals at Esperance rock at Cape York. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com/ Marco Di Lorenzo

Opportunity rovers current location by the summit of Cape Tribulation in early Jan. 2015 on Sol 3894 is shown in this prior panoramic navcam mosaic view looking south along the rim of Endeavour crater on Sol 3309 on May 15, 2013, where she discovered clay minerals at Esperance rock at Cape York. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/ Marco Di Lorenzo

The ancient, weathered slopes of Cape Tribulation hold a motherlode of the “phyllosilicate” clay minerals, based on data obtained from the extensive orbital measurements made by the CRISM spectrometer accomplished earlier at the direction of Arvidson.

The clay minerals were detected from orbit by the CRISM spectrometer aboard NASA’s powerful Martian “Spysat”—the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO)—while gathering context data at rock outcrops along the long and winding way over the past few years.

The robot’s science team specifically directed Opportunity toward Cape Tribulation several years ago, based on the detection of abundant exposures of aluminum-rich clay minerals at a spot a bit beyond the summit called “Marathon Valley,” using the spectral measurements from CRISM and MRO.

The clay minerals are now in the line of sight of Opportunity, and the science team is bursting with excitement back here on Earth.

Latest map showing the location on the local summit (1 m contours) and the geology up to this location at Cape Tribulation in Jan 2015. Credit: Larry Crumpler/ NMMNHS /NASA/JPL

Latest map showing the location on the local summit (1 m contours) and the geology up to this location at Cape Tribulation in Jan 2015. Credit: Larry Crumpler/ NMMNHS /NASA/JPL

Today, 8 January 2015, marks Opportunity’s 3894th Sol or Martian day roving Mars. So far she has snapped over 199,600 amazing images since her air-bag assisted touchdown on 24 January 2004 inside Eagle crater.

Opportunity’s total odometry is over 25.73 miles (41.42 kilometers).

Stay tuned here for continuing developments from Earth’s invasion fleet at Mars.

Ken Kremer

 

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11 Year Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2015. This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during a decade on Mars and over 3894 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location by Cape Tribulation summit at the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone - and is searching for more at Cape Tribulation.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

11 Year Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2015
This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during a decade on Mars and over 3894 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 to current location by Cape Tribulation summit at the western rim of Endeavour Crater. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone – and is searching for more at Cape Tribulation. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover scans to the summit of Cape Tribulation less than 100 meters distant in mid-December 2014.  Beyond lie caches of clay minerals. The scene shows impact breccias and thin soil cover with cobbles over bedrock.  This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3871, Dec. 13, 2014 and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer - kenkremer.com/ Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover scans to the summit of Cape Tribulation less than 100 meters distant in mid-December 2014. Beyond lie caches of clay minerals. The scene shows impact breccias and thin soil cover with cobbles over bedrock. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3871, Dec. 13, 2014 and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com/ Marco Di Lorenzo

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