Mars Rover Opportunity To Head Toward Bigger Crater

Sep 22, 2008
The team operating NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has chosen southeast as the direction for the rover's next extended journey, toward a crater more than 20 times wider than "Victoria Crater." Image credit: NASA/JPL/ASU

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Mars Rover Opportunity is setting its sights on a crater more than 20 times larger than its home for the past two years.

To reach the crater the rover team calls Endeavour, Opportunity would need to drive approximately 7 miles to the southeast, matching the total distance it has traveled since landing on Mars in early 2004. The rover climbed out of Victoria Crater earlier this month.

"We may not get there, but it is scientifically the right direction to go anyway," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for the science instruments on Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit. "This crater is staggeringly large compared to anything we've seen before."

Getting there would yield a look inside a bowl 13.7 miles across. Scientists expect to see a much deeper stack of rock layers than those examined by Opportunity in Victoria Crater.

"I would love to see that view from the rim," Squyres said. "But even if we never get there, as we move southward we expect to be getting to younger and younger layers of rock on the surface. Also, there are large craters to the south that we think are sources of cobbles that we want to examine out on the plain. Some of the cobbles are samples of layers deeper than Opportunity will ever see, and we expect to find more cobbles as we head toward the south."

Opportunity will have to pick up the pace to get there. The rover team estimates Opportunity may be able to travel about 110 yards each day it is driven toward the Endeavour crater. Even at that pace, the journey could take two years.

"This is a bolder, more aggressive objective than we have had before," said John Callas, the project manager for both Mars rovers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "It's tremendously exciting. It's new science. It's the next great challenge for these robotic explorers."

Opportunity, like Spirit, is well past its expected lifetime on Mars, and might not keep working long enough to reach the crater. However, two new resources not available during the 4-mile drive toward Victoria Crater in 2005 and 2006 are expected to aid in this new trek.

One is imaging from orbit of details smaller than the rover itself, using the High Resolution Imaging Science Experiment (HiRISE) camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which arrived at the Red Planet in 2006.

"HiRISE allows us to identify drive paths and potential hazards on the scale of the rover along the route," Callas said. "This is a great example of how different parts of NASA's Mars Exploration Program reinforce each other."

Other advantages come from a new version of flight software uplinked to Opportunity and Spirit in 2006, boosting their ability to autonomously choose routes and avoid hazards such as sand dunes.

During its first year on Mars, Opportunity found geological evidence that the area where it landed had surface and underground water in the distant past. The rover's explorations since have added information about how that environment changed over time. Finding rock layers above or below the layers already examined adds windows into later or earlier periods of time.

Provided by NASA

Explore further: New rocket propellant and motor design offer high performance and safety

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Opportunity rover gets panorama image at 'Wdowiak Ridge'

6 hours ago

The latest fieldwork site for NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which has been examining a series of Martian craters since 2004, is on the slope of a prominent hill jutting out of the rim of a large ...

Under Rainier's crater, a natural laboratory like no other

Oct 03, 2014

Counting all the ups and downs, he had climbed more than 15,000 feet to get here - past yawning crevasses and over cliffs where a single misstep could send a rope team tumbling. His party was pummeled by a lightning storm ...

Mars rover Opportunity's vista includes long tracks

Sep 10, 2014

From a ridgeline viewpoint, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity recently recorded a scene looking back over its own tracks made from nearly half a mile (more than 700 meters) of southbound driving.

Repaired Opportunity rover readies for 'Marathon Valley'

Sep 17, 2014

With a newly cleared memory, it's time for Opportunity to resume the next stage of its long, long Martian drive. The next major goal for the long-lived rover is to go to Marathon Valley, a spot that (in images ...

Recommended for you

Asteroid 2014 SC324 zips by Earth Friday afternoon

2 hours ago

What a roller coaster week it's been. If partial eclipses and giant sunspots aren't your thing, how about a close flyby of an Earth-approaching asteroid?  2014 SC324 was discovered on September 30 this ...

Who owns space?

3 hours ago

The golden age of planetary exploration had voyagers navigating new sea routes to uncharted territory. These territories were then claimed in the name of the monarchs who had financed the expeditions. All ...

User comments : 0