With the Curiosity Rover blazing a trail across Mars to find evidence of what the planet once looked like, people often forget about it’s venerable predecessor – the Opportunity Rover. Luckily, Opportunity recently broke a record that put it back in the public eye and into the history books. After nine years into what was initially meant to be a 90 day mission, Opportunity smashed yet another space milestone this week by establishing a new distance driving record.
On Thursday, May 16, the Opportunity rover drove another 80 meters (263 feet) on the Martian surface, bringing her total odometry since landing on the 24th of January, 2004 to 35.760 kilometers (22.220 miles). This effectively put her ahead of the 40 year old driving record set by the Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt back in December of 1972.
On that mission, Cernan and Schmitt performed America’s final lunar landing mission and drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV-3) a total of 35.744 kilometers (22.210 miles) over the course of three days on the moon’s surface at the Taurus-Littrow lunar valley. And interestingly enough, Cernan was a very good sport about his record being broken. In a statement made at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md, he said:
The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity.
Thereafter, Opportunity will rack up ever more distance as the rover continues driving further south to a spot called “Cape Tribulation”. This point is believed to hold caches of clay minerals that formed eons ego when liquid water flowed across this region of the Red Planet. In so doing, Opportunity will not only establish a new record that will last for years to come, it will also be obtaining data that will assist in Curiosity’s own efforts to determine what life was like on Mars in the past.
Far greater than this record-breaking news is the fact that Opportunity has lasted so far beyond her design lifetime, 37 times longer in fact than her initial 3 month “warranty”.
And be sure to check out the full list of record holders for “out-of-this-world” driving, below: