Mars Rover Sets New NASA Distance Record

The Mars rover Opportunity has now traveled 22.220 statute miles (35.760 kilometers) beating the previous record set in 1972, by Apollo 17 astronauts driving a Lunar Roving Vehicle on the moon. Apollo 17 astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt visited Earth's moon for three days in December 1972, and drove their mission's Lunar Roving Vehicle 19.3 nautical miles (22.210 statute miles or 35.744 kilometers).

The rovers carry a Panoramic Camera (Pancam) to determine the mineralogy, texture, and structure of the local terrain. A miniature thermal emission spectrometer (Mini-TES) enables identification of promising rocks and soils for closer scrutiny and determination of the events that shaped Martian rocks. The instrument also monitors the temperature of the Martian atmosphere. A Mössbauer Spectrometer (MB) on the rovers facilitates close-up investigations of the mineralogy of iron-bearing rocks and soils. The Alpha Particle X-Ray Spectrometer (APXS) helps in the analysis of the abundances of elements inside the rocks and soils. The magnets collect magnetic dust particles for further analysis by the Mössbauer Spectrometer and the Alpha Particle X-ray Spectrometer to help determine the ratio of magnetic particles to non-magnetic particles. As well, they are equipped to analyze the composition of magnetic minerals in airborne dust and rocks pulverized by the Rock Abrasion Tool. The rovers are equipped with a microscopic imager (MI) for obtaining close-up, high-resolution images of rocks and soils. A rock abrasion tool (RAT) helps in the removal of dusty and weathered rock surfaces.

The Mars rover drove 263 feet (80 meters) on May 16, 2013, bringing Opportunity's total odometry since landing on Mars in January 2004 to 22.220 statute miles (35.760 kilometers), according to a NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory news release. The Soviet Union's remote-controlled Lunokhod 2 rover, which traveled 23 miles (37 kilometers) on the surface of Earth's moon in 1973, still hold's the record for driving distance exraterrestrially.

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the Mars Exploration Rover Project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, Washington. JPL also manages the Mars Science Laboratory Project and its rover, Curiosity, which landed on Mars in August 2012

According to the team monitoring Mars rover Opportunity, the vehicle was on a multi-week trek from "Cape York," where it has been for the last two years, to  "Solander Point," which is approximately 1.4 miles away.

NASA's twin robot geologists, the Mars Exploration Rovers, launched toward Mars on June 10 and July 7, 2003, landed on Mars January 3 and January 24, 2004. They were targeted to sites on opposite sides of Mars that appear to have traces of liquid water in the past. The landing sites included Gusev Crater, a possible former lake in a giant impact crater, and Meridiani Planum, where mineral deposits (hematite) suggest Mars had a wet past.

Unlike Opportunity's sister rover Spirit that was lost in 2010 in Martian desert, after traveling 4.8 miles, the Opportunity is still alive and kicking on the extraterrestrial land, beyond its expected span of three months and still collecting data on Mars. The rover is on a mission to investigate the planet Mars. Its immediate target has been the rock  "Esperance." The Opportunity's mission entails digging into the Martian rocks and soil to investigate traces of water in the past, searching for indications of the planetary conditions back then, assessing the geologic processes and phenomena on the Martian surface, and so forth.

Essentially, the mission aims to understand the history of water on the planet, which has a great impact on the overall Mars Exploration program, whose goals are to "determine whether life ever arose on Mars, characterize the climate of Mars, characterize the geology of Mars, [and] prepare for human exploration," as another news report explains.

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