With over a decade of service under its robotic belt, NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover has set a new record for most miles driven by an off-Earth vehicle.
“Designed to Drive 1 Kilometer”
On July 27, Opportunity drove roughly 157 feet—not much by human driving standards. But, it brought the rover’s odometer to 25.01 miles (approximately 40 kilometers), a remarkable feat for a vehicle hundreds of thousands of miles removed from Earth.
“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said John Callas, Project Manager of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Project in a news release. “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive [only] about one kilometer and was never designed for distance.
“But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”
The rover uses an array of instruments to study the Martian surface, including a robotic arm, a “weather station,” a high-powered laser, a drill, and, most intriguing of all, a ten-and-a-half pound (roughly 5 kg) block of plutonium-238, which serves at its power source.
Opportunity’s latest excursion brought it to the western rim of Mars’ Endeavour Crater, where it examined clay and sulfate minerals found in the crater’s surface. The rover’s next big trek will be to an area known as Marathon Valley. Fittingly, Opportunity’s travel to this location will raise its total distance to 26.2 miles.
Old Record Stood for 41 Years
The previous record for off-Earth wheeled travel was held by Lunokhod 2, a Russian rover that reached the Moon in January 1973. According to NASA, Lunokhod 2 traveled roughly 24.2 miles (39 kilometers) in under five months. As Opportunity has been on Mars since 2004, it’s clearly not breaking any Martian speed records.