by Cat Ellen, contributing writer
Breaking Long-Distance Driving Records
After ten years of research and exploration, NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover broke the long-distance driving record for vehicles on off-Earth surfaces. This week, an additional drive of 157 feet flipped Oppy’s odometer past the 25 mile mark, passing the previous record from the Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 rover (which did all its driving on the moon).
“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer 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.”
Competition for driving records can also inspire today’s scientists and engineers to honor those earlier moon missions from the 1970s. Lunokhod 2 landed on the moon in 1973 and it managed 24.2 miles in less than five months of exploration. Oppy’s rover team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory named a crater on Mars “Lunokhod 2” in honor of those historical tracks on the moon. The Lunokhod 2 crater on Mars can be found on the outer slope of the Endeavour crater, Oppy’s exploration home since 2011.
Curiosity’s Younger Sibling Planned for 2020
This week, NASA announced more details for the Mars 2020 mission, which will send the next rover to Mars. Current plans build on the design for the Curiosity rover and include new scientific instruments for new geological studies and discoveries.
“Today we take another important step on our journey to Mars,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “While getting to and landing on Mars is hard, Curiosity was an iconic example of how our robotic scientific explorers are paving the way for humans to pioneer Mars and beyond. Mars exploration will be this generation’s legacy, and the Mars 2020 rover will be another critical step on humans’ journey to the Red Planet.”
Engineers and researchers around the world submitted a record number of proposals for the instruments on the next Mars rover. From the 58 proposals, NASA announced seven instruments for the extra-terrestrial science lab including an advanced camera system, imaging equipment to examine chemicals and organic compounds in minerals and rocks, an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer, an ultraviolet (UV) laser spectrometer, experimental equipment to produce oxygen from Mars’ carbon dioxide, environmental sensors to analyze temperatures, humidity, and wind, and ground-penetrating radar equipment. Check out our in-depth article on the selected instruments for more information!
First Close-Up of Mount Sharp’s Base
Curiosity’s record-breaking drive has brought it much closer to its next long-term science destination, on the lower slopes of Mount Sharp. The mountain is in the middle of the Gale Crater, and its base layer has an outcrop which the rover team have dubbed “Pahrump Hills.” Curiosity is currently about a third of a mile from Pahrump Hills, and has sent back its first close-up of the outcrop.
“We’re coming to our first taste of a geological unit that’s part of the base of the mountain rather than the floor of the crater,” said Curiosity Project Scientist John Grotzinger of the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena. “We will cross a major terrain boundary.”
- Mars Exploration Program
- Twitter: @MarsRovers, Spirit and Oppy
- Twitter: @MarsCuriosity
- Facebook: NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover
- Twitter: @NASAJPL