Opportunity Achieves Marathon Distance Feat at Majestic Mars Mountain Overlook

Opportunity’s view on the day the NASA rover exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of Mars on March 24, 2015, Sol 3968. Rover stands at Spirit of Saint Louis crater near mountaintop at Marathon Valley overlook and Martian cliffs at Endeavour crater holding deposits of water altered clay minerals.  This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3968 (March 24, 2015) and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

View from Opportunity on Mars today!
Opportunity’s view on the day the NASA rover exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of Mars on March 24, 2015, Sol 3968. Rover stands at Spirit of Saint Louis crater near mountaintop at Marathon Valley overlook and Martian cliffs at Endeavour crater holding deposits of water altered clay minerals. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3968 (March 24, 2015) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

NASA’s long-lived Opportunity rover completed her first Red Planet marathon this Tuesday, March 24, a distance running to 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) and marking another in a lengthy string of unfathomable achievements when she crossed the finish line with a time of roughly 11 years and two months.

Indeed it’s the first marathon run by an emissary from Earth on another planet!

To put that in context, upon departing Earth atop the mighty thrust of a Delta II rocket back in the summer of 2003, her “warrantied” life expectancy was a mere three months!

And Opportunity accomplished the magnificent marathon feat standing atop a Martian mountain at an overlook with a majestic view into “Marathon Valley,” holding caches of clay minerals that could provide key evidence and insights into whether Mars ever had sustained periods of habitable environmental conditions to support microbial life forms.

What does it look like when a Mars rover crosses the finish line of a Martian marathon?

You can check out her majestic marathon day view in our exclusive photo mosaic above, assembled from raw images snapped by Opportunity’s mast mounted navcam camera on March 24, 2015, or Sol 3968 of her operations on the surface of the Red Planet, created by the image processing team of Marco Di Lorenzo and Ken Kremer.

Opportunity's Marathon Journey.   This illustration depicts some highlights along the route as NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove as far as a marathon race during the first 11 years and two months after its January 2004 landing in Eagle Crater.  The vehicle surpassed marathon distance of 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) with a drive completed on March 24, 2015, during the 3,968th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity's work on Mars. For this map, north is on the left.  Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech/CornellUniv./USGS/Arizona State Univ.

Opportunity’s Marathon Journey. This illustration depicts some highlights along the route as NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove as far as a marathon race during the first 11 years and two months after its January 2004 landing in Eagle Crater. The vehicle surpassed marathon distance of 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) with a drive completed on March 24, 2015, during the 3,968th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity’s work on Mars. For this map, north is on the left. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/CornellUniv./USGS/Arizona State Univ.

“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, N.Y., in a statement.

“Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”

Today, Opportunity stands proudly at the edge of “Spirit of Saint Louis” crater, near the summit of Cape Tribulation on a research mission now devoted to survey “Marathon Valley”—her long-term science destination.

“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., in a statement.

“A first time happens only once.”

Opportunity’s spectacular mountaintop view by Spirit of Saint Louis Crater at Marathon Valley on March 23, the day before the NASA rover exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of Mars on March 24, 2015, Sol 3968. This pancam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3967 (March 23, 2015) and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

Opportunity’s spectacular mountaintop view by Spirit of Saint Louis Crater at Marathon Valley on March 23, the day before the NASA rover exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of Mars on March 24, 2015, Sol 3968. This pancam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3967 (March 23, 2015) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

In 2014, “Opportunity became the long-distance champion of all off-Earth vehicles when it topped the previous record set by the former Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover,” according to NASA.

A drive on Tuesday, March 24, of 153 feet (46.5 meters) on Sol 3968 pushed Opportunity’s total odometry to 26.221 miles (42.198 kilometers), passing the official marathon distance record.

Marathon Valley was selected for intensive investigation because it holds a motherlode of Martian mineral treasures altered by ancient flowing water, based on orbital observations collected by NASA’s robotic invasion fleet.

“It’s named Marathon Valley because the rover will have traveled one marathon’s distance to reach it,” Prof. Ray Arvidson, the rover Deputy Principal Investigator of Washington University told AmericaSpace.

Multiple types of phyllosilicate clay minerals were detected at “Marathon Valley” from orbital observations gathered by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO).

These clay minerals are exciting to scientists because they formed in ancient wet environmental conditions that are less acidic, and thus more favorable for the formation of microbial life forms, than the more harshly acidic environments found in rocks investigated earlier in the 11-year-long mission.

NASA’s Opportunity Rover scans along a spectacular overlook towards Marathon Valley on March 3, 2015 showing flat-faced rocks exhibiting a completely new composition from others examined earlier.  Marathon Valley and Martian cliffs on Endeavour crater hold deposits of water altered clay minerals.  This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3948 (March 3, 2015) and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s Opportunity Rover scans along a spectacular overlook towards Marathon Valley on March 3, 2015, showing flat-faced rocks exhibiting a completely new composition from others examined earlier. Marathon Valley and Martian cliffs on Endeavour crater hold deposits of water altered clay minerals. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3948 (March 3, 2015) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

After clawing her way upward during an arduous drive over the past year and a half, the rover reached the Martian mountain peak in January 2015.

About 2.5 months ago, on Jan. 6, 2015, Opportunity accomplished the incredible feat of climbing atop the mountain summit at Cape Tribulation, located along the western rim of Endeavour crater. The peak stands about 440 feet (135 meters) above the local plains around the crater.

Vast Endeavour crater spans some 22 kilometers (14 miles) in diameter.

As of today, Sol 3970 (March 25, 2015), Opportunity’s total odometry is over 26.221 miles (42.198 kilometers) since touchdown on Jan. 24, 2004, at Meridiani Planum—exceeding a marathon runner’s distance!

11 Year Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2015. This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during 11 years and two months and a marathon runners distance on Mars for over 3968 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 -to current location just past the Cape Tribulation summit at the western rim of Endeavour Crater at Marathon Valley. Rover surpassed Marathon distance on Sol 3968 and marked 11th Martian anniversary on Sol 3911. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone - and is searching for more on the road ahead at Marathon Valley.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Eleven-year traverse map for NASA’s Opportunity rover from 2004 to 2015. This map shows the entire path the rover has driven during 11 years and two months and a marathon runners distance on Mars for over 3968 Sols, or Martian days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 -to current location just past the Cape Tribulation summit at the western rim of Endeavour Crater at Marathon Valley. Rover surpassed Marathon distance on Sol 3968 and marked 11th Martian anniversary on Sol 3911. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone – and is searching for more on the road ahead at Marathon Valley. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer – kenkremer.com

Opportunity has snapped over 201,781 amazing images on the first overland expedition across the Red Planet.

Despite all these accomplishments, the White House seeks to “Kill Opportunity.” Under the newly rolled out NASA budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016, Opportunity would “cease operations” with funding being “zeroed out” as detailed in a recent AmericaSpace story here.

The cost to operate Opportunity was just $14 million during 2014.

Meanwhile, younger sister rover Curiosity is taking “bites” from the base of another Martian mountain on the opposite side of the Red Planet. Read all about her latest drilling campaign here.

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

Ken Kremer

 

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NASA’s Opportunity Rover scans along a spectacular overlook towards Marathon Valley on March 3, 2015 showing flat-faced rocks exhibiting a completely new composition from others examined earlier.  Marathon Valley and Martian cliffs on Endeavour crater hold deposits of water altered clay minerals.  This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3948 (March 3, 2015) and colorized.  Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

NASA’s Opportunity Rover scans along a spectacular overlook towards Marathon Valley on March 3, 2015 showing flat-faced rocks exhibiting a completely new composition from others examined earlier. Marathon Valley and Martian cliffs on Endeavour crater hold deposits of water altered clay minerals. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from images taken on Sol 3948 (March 3, 2015) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Opportunity's Approach to 'Marathon Valley' (Stereo). Cumulative driving by NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, as the rover neared a destination called "Marathon Valley," which is middle ground of this stereo view from early March. The scene appears three-dimensional when viewed through blue-red glasses with the red lens on the left.  Olympic marathon distance is 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers).  Credit:  NASA/JPL-Caltech

Opportunity’s Approach to ‘Marathon Valley’ (Stereo). Cumulative driving by NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, as the rover neared a destination called “Marathon Valley,” which is middle ground of this stereo view from early March. The scene appears three-dimensional when viewed through blue-red glasses with the red lens on the left. Olympic marathon distance is 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers). Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

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