It's official, Mars rover Opportunity has completed a marathon on Mars!
Although there was no cheering crowd at the Martian finishing line, there were no doubt cheers from mission control at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., when, today (March 24), the veteran Mars explorer reached 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) on the odometer, becoming the first space mission ever to complete the equivalent distance of an Olympic marathon on another planet.
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The momentous distance was reached after Opportunity carried out a 46.5 meter drive into "Marathon Valley."
"This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world," said John Callas, Opportunity project manager at JPL. "A first time happens only once."
It took the rover 11 years and two months to complete the trek across Meridiani Planum since its landing on Jan. 25, 2004. At the time, the rover (and its twin sister Spirit) had a primary mission of only 3 months. 11 years later, though it is showing inevitable signs of aging, the rover is still doing groundbreaking science, helping us to piece together Mars' ancient habitability.
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"This mission isn't about setting distance records, of course; it's about making scientific discoveries on Mars and inspiring future explorers to achieve even more," said Steve Squyres, Opportunity's principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, NY. "Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool."
This milestone is symbolic, but it's an important one. It's a testament to the incredible engineering and science that has gone into Opportunity and her mission. The rover has been suffering some age-related problems of late, but it hasn't stopped this ingenious mission from rolling onward and conquering a grueling Martian marathon.
And the best thing is, it hasn't finished yet.
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