NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is nearing a location on Mars at which its driving distance will surpass the length of a marathon race.
A drive on Feb. 8, 2015, put the rover within 220 yards (200 meters) of this marathon accomplishment. An Olympic marathon is 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers).
Opportunity is headed for a portion of the western rim of Endeavour Crater where observations by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter have detected multiple types of clay minerals. These minerals are indicative of an ancient wet environment where water was more neutral rather than harshly acidic. More than six months ago, the rover team informally named that destination “Marathon Valley,” having estimated what the odometry would total by the time Opportunity gets there.
“When Opportunity was in its prime mission 11 years ago, no one imagined this vehicle surviving a Martian winter, let alone completing a marathon on Mars,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California. “Now, that achievement is within reach as Opportunity approaches a strategic science destination. What’s most important about the longevity and driving distance the mission keeps extending are not numerical thresholds, but the wealth of scientific information returned about Mars, made possible by these feats.”