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.
“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.”
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.
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!
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.
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