Mars Rover Sets New Off-World Driving Record
Irv Gordon’s 1966 Volvo P1800 has over 3,000,000 miles on the clock. That’s impressive. But one place it simply can’t ever visit is Mars, the location of NASA’s most recent and truly out-of-this-world mileage achievement. On July 27, NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover drove a total of 48 meters and in the process clinched the off-Earth roving distance record after its odometer ticked just over 25 miles. Amazingly, the Opportunity rover, which touched down on the red planet in January of 2004, was tasked with only a three-month mission and wasn’t intended to drive more than a mile.
“No one in their wildest dreams thought the rover would last this long,” commented John Callas, manager for the Mars Exploration Rover Project. “People made bets early on – ‘Maybe we can get to the first Martian winter,’ ‘Maybe we can get two years out of it’ – but no one thought that it would last this long.”
IFLScience explains that both the Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers were designed to operate for a total of 90 sols, or Martian days (the equivalent of 24 hours and 39.5 minutes), but that both greatly exceeded their intended lifespans. Spirit’s mission ended when its solar panels stopped generating electricity in 2010, but Opportunity shows no signs of slowing down (its route displayed below).
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That’s bad news for the previous record holder, the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on the Earth’s moon in 1973. Over the course of five months, the Lunokhod 2 drove about 24.2 miles, and – being the good guys and girls that they are – the team in charge of the Opportunity rover has opted to name a nearby crater in recognition of the speedy Soviet rover.
NASA doesn’t seem to be resting on its laurels though. The team already assigned the name “Marathon Valley” to an area of interest at about 26.2 miles, or the distance of marathon, from its original starting point. Keep running little guy!
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