NASA: Mars marathon for rover Opportunity

Posted at 8:00 AM, Jul 17, 2012
and last updated 2012-07-17 08:00:16-04

RICHMOND, Va. (WTVR) – Richmond is known for being a running town (ever heard of the Monument Avenue 10K, anyone? It’s only one of the biggest road races in the U.S.), but did you know the surface of Mars has been the site of an epic race in recent years? Mars rover Opportunity, which landed successfully on Mars in Eagle Crater on January 25, 2004 (Universal Time and EST), was originally expected to only complete a short three-month mission. More than eight years later, though, the rover has traveled nearly the length of a marathon course.

June 22, 2012: Opportunity’s Traverse Map, Sol 2989.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/University of Arizona.

Despite multiple setbacks and a near-death experience in a dust storm, Opportunity races on, sometimes moving backwards to reach its goal. Among its many milestones is this recent, stunning panoramic view sent to Earth.

This full-circle scene combines 817 images taken by the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell/Arizona State Univ.

Guy Webster with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory says this image “was assembled from 817 component images taken between Dec. 21, 2011, and May 8, 2012, while Opportunity was stationed on an outcrop informally named ‘Greeley Haven,’ on a segment of the rim of ancient Endeavour Crater.”

Jim Bell, lead scientist of the panoramic camera (Pancam) on NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, says, “The view provides rich geologic context for the detailed chemical and mineral work that the team did at Greeley Haven over the rover’s fifth Martian winter, as well as a spectacularly detailed view of the largest impact crater that we’ve driven to yet with either rover over the course of the mission.” Bell works from Arizona State University, Tempe on this project.

Webster (JPL) adds, “This scene recorded from the mast-mounted color camera includes the rover’s own solar arrays and deck in the foreground, providing a sense of sitting on top of the rover and taking in the view. Its release (July 5, 2012)  coincides with two milestones: Opportunity completing its 3,000th Martian day on July 2, and NASA continuing past 15 years of robotic presence at Mars. Mars Pathfinder landed July 4, 1997. NASA’s Mars Global Surveyor orbiter reached the planet while Pathfinder was still active, and Global Surveyor overlapped the active missions of the Mars Odyssey orbiter and Opportunity, both still in service.”

Watch this Science@NASA video about the tireless robot poised to complete a full marathon, what mission planners are calling, “the first ever long-distance race on an alien planet.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about the two current Mars rovers, Opportunity and Spirit. They will be joined in less than three weeks by their cousin, Curiosity, when it lands in early August.

Meteorologist Carrie Rose
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