The Opportunity Mars rover that landed on Mars a decade ago has surpassed all previous distance records set by interstellar body rovers with its 40.25km journey, US space agency NASA said.
This distance now puts it slightly ahead of the Soviet-launched moon rover Lunokhod 2, which landed on Earth’s satellite in 1973 and made a total journey of 39km in the space of five months before running out of power. It now rests on the moon’s surface and yet was sold in 1993 for US$68,500 at a Sotheby’s auction.
Opportunity’s latest journey on 27 July totalled 48 metres, putting it just ahead of the Soviet’s record as it heads southward along the western rim of the crater dubbed Endeavour.
By NASA’s estimates, if Opportunity continues at the pace of an average marathon – 42.2km – it will soon be at Marathon Valley, where it may help make potentially important scientific discoveries related to possibly less acidic water on Mars in its ancient history.
In honour of its older Soviet record breaker, the NASA team controlling Opportunity has named a small crater on the outer slope of Endeavour’s rim Lunokhod 2.
“This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about 1km and was never designed for distance,” said Mars exploration rover project manager John Callas.
“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.”
Chart documenting space rover distances. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech