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Mars rover sets extraterrestrial distance record
NASA’s Opportunity rover sets other-world distance driving benchmark
30 Jul 2014
By BARRY PARK
A SMALL vehicle, long out of warranty and plagued with minor electrical glitches and stiff joints, has set a new distance record by driving more than 40km – on Mars.
The Volkswagen Beetle-sized Opportunity rover, which landed on Mars in 2004 was expected to last only 12 months before the harsh conditions rendered it useless, but overnight the unit clicked over the 40km mark on its odometer.
The NASA rover breaks a record previously held by a remote-controlled Russian lunar buggy, the Lonokhod 2, which was rediscovered in 2010 and found to have travelled about 39km according to an assessment of the tracks it left on the Moon’s surface.
"Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world," Mars exploration rover project manager John Callas said.
"This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometre and was never designed for distance.“Opportunity’s sister rover, Spirit, shut down in 2010 after travelling 7.7km.
Despite suffering symptoms of ageing, such as a stiff shoulder joint and the occasional reboot, NASA said Opportunity’s problems had not grown more troublesome in the past year, and no new symptoms had appeared.
Part of the problem NASA experienced was dust covering the rovers’ solar panels, feeding less energy into their batteries.
However, NASA said winds on the exposed ridge where Opportunity was exploring the Martian surface had blown almost all of the dust off, meaning that it was now collecting as much energy as it did in the first year of the mission.
Opportunity’s next destination will take its odometer reading to 42km, to a valley that NASA engineers have dubbed, appropriately, Marathon.
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