The rover that doesn’t know how to quit, Mars Exploration Rover B “Opportunity” has just departed “Cape Tribulation”, a feature on the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars. It’s spent the last 30 months at this location, conserving power over the Martian winter (since unlike Curiosity, it’s solar powered), and now it’s ready to move on. The next destination is a nearby valley in the huge crater’s rim, called “Perseverance Valley”. It’s a good name for a valley soon to be explored by a spacecraft 13 years into its 3-month mission. 😉 Opportunity will begin by studying the top of the valley, then move down it in the sort of pattern you’d expect a geologist to take while studying erosion and deposits that may explain how the valley was formed.
Here’s a final full-color panoramic look at Cape Tribulation:
After the successful upload of new software to allow Opportunity to resume use of its onboard flash memory (NVRAM), the rover was able to start rolling again and has now passed the marathon milestone of 26.219 miles, by about ten and a half feet. Congratulations, Opportunity!
Opportunity, still trucking over a decade into its 90 day mission, hobbled by NVRAM that isn’t holding some of its data overnight and a bum wheel that it’s forced to drag while driving backwards, is about to reach a new milestone. It will shortly become the first rover to complete a marathon (26.219 miles or 42.195 kilometers). In honor of this achievement, Oppy’s current target has been dubbed Marathon Valley. It will hit the marathon mark in about 220 yards. The going is slow, hampered as Opportunity is with its technical problems, but there’s really no reason not to expect it to complete the challenge.
The current marathon record for a human stands at a staggering 2 hours, 02 minutes, and 57 seconds, held by Kenyan runner Dennis Kimetto. Most runners take considerably longer to complete a marathon, and merely finishing is considered a major accomplishment. To date, there is no record for the marathon as completed by an extra-planetary unmanned rover, because so far none has completed a marathon. But once Oppy gets there, it will set the record. It’s not clear when Oppy will set this record; currently, mission controllers are debating on the safest route forward as there is a rather steep outcrop in front of the rover. They may opt to go around it. But if it set the record today, the time to beat would be 3930 Martian sols, or 3,825 Earth days (10 years, 173 days).
10 years ago last Friday, the second Mars Exploration Rover landed on Mars, and was christened “Opportunity”. It was designed for 90 sols (Martian days, slightly longer than Earth days) and one kilometer of roving, but of course NASA hates to abandon a probe just because the end of the primary mission is reached; if it’s still working, they’ll extend the mission to the bitter end whenever possible. And so far, Opportunity has been exploring Mars for 10 (Earth) years, 38,736.91 meters, and 3,540 sols. Way beyond its warranty, Opportunity is showing its age but refusing to quit. Most recently, it noticed the appearance of a white rock that wasn’t there a day before, and the mission team is excitedly studying that rock to figure out what it is and how it got there. So far, they really don’t know, and that’s most of the fun. 😉