As you probably know, there is now a nuclear-powered rover on the surface of mars that is equipped with more scientific instruments and data gathering systems than anything before. It is highly capable and has already made some important discoveries.
But many have forgotten that there is another Mars rover that is still operating. Right now, the US actually has two independent rovers that are functioning and making observations on the surface of Mars. The two original exploration rovers have shown a capability to work far beyond their design lives. The rover Opportunity continuing to operate to this day. Spirit, a nearly identical rover, functioned until 2010 but lost power after it became stuck in place.
It is really amazing because Opportunity landed on mars in early 2004, with the hopes that it would function for a few months. Today, it is still going, albeit with some diminished capabilities. Solar panels have degraded, the drill bit used to sample rocks is far too dull to function. Problems have arisen with the robotic arm of opertunity. Still, for its age, now over ten years, it’s amazing that it is still going.
Despite its slow speed and the fact that it needs to stop frequently to charge batteries in the dim sunlight of mars, it has now broken a long standing record for rovers traversing extraterrestrial terrain.
Via Astronomy Magazine:
Long-lived Mars Opportunity rover passes 25 miles of driving
Opportunity was intended to drive about 0.6 mile and was never designed for distance.
NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover that landed on the Red Planet in 2004 now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 25 miles (40 kilometers) of driving. The Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover held the previous record.
“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about 1 kilometer [0.6 mile] and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”
A drive of 157 feet (48 meters) on July 27 put Opportunity’s total odometry at 25.01 miles (40.25km). This month’s driving brought the rover southward along the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover had driven more than 20 miles (32km) before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011, where it has examined outcrops on the crater’s rim containing clay and sulfate-bearing minerals. The sites are yielding evidence of ancient environments with less acidic water than those examined at Opportunity’s landing site.
If the rover can continue to operate the distance of a marathon — 26.2 miles (about 42.2 kilometers) — it will approach the next major investigation site mission scientists have dubbed “Marathon Valley.” Observations from spacecraft orbiting Mars suggest that several clay minerals are exposed close together at this valley site, surrounded by steep slopes where the relationships among different layers may be evident.
The Russian Lunokhod 2 rover, a successor to the first Lunokhod mission in 1970, landed on Earth’s Moon on January 15, 1973, where it drove about 24.2 miles (39 kilometers) in less than five months, according to calculations recently made using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) cameras that reveal Lunokhod 2’s tracks.
For comparison, the distance record by a crewed surface vehicle is 35.75 km (about 22 miles) set in 1972 by Apollo-17. That rover, of course, covered such a distance in a much shorter period of time than it has taken the Mars rovers, lending to its power coming from powerful silver-zinc potassium hydroxide batteries on the vehicle and not from solar panels. The Lunakhod rovers covered long distances in a matter of months, also far quicker than the Mars rover Opportunity. While they used solar power, the moon offers far brighter sun than the surface of Mars and thus more power.
Hopefully the new rover, Curiosity will break the record. It can travel faster than Spirit and uses a nuclear power source that does not require recharging in the sun. It has already traveled 4.6 kilometers. It could have traveled further, but NASA has been conservative with the valuable rover and it has spent much time stationary making scientific observations
Posted in Good Science, History, Space