Mars rover Opportunity finally leaving Victoria Crater and going back to the plains

Monday, September 01, 2008

Just in case you've forgotten, the Mars Rovers launched in 2003 are still doing well on Mars. Opportunity has spent the last year within this crater and has finally left it to get back to the safer plains. has the story:

After nearly a year rolling around inside an expansive crater on Mars, NASA's trusty rover Opportunity is headed back out to explore the Martian plains.

"The rover is back on flat ground," said Paolo Belluta, engineer and rover driver at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

The golf cart-sized Opportunity climbed up and out of 800-meter wide Victoria Crater on Mars late Thursday with one last 6.8-meter push that sent it charging over the top of the crater's rim and through a sand ripple on the other side. The maneuver brought to an end Opportunity's studies of Victoria, which began in September 2007 when the rover made its first foray into the crater.
That year doesn't include all the time it spent around the edge of the crater as well, giving a total of two years spent observing it:
But Victoria Crater, a deep depression blasted into the Martian surface with exposed bedrock that serves as a window into planet's geological history, has dominated Opportunity's attention. The rover spent more than half of the four years since it landed on Mars studying the giant crater.

Opportunity first headed for Victoria in late 2004 after visiting a smaller, stadium-sized crater, dubbed Endurance, earlier that year. The rover took 22 months to cross the few miles between Endurance and Victoria, and managed to escape a deep sand dune that held it fast for five weeks before engineers were able to work it back out.

After arriving at Victoria, Opportunity spent a year meticulously circling partway around the crater's rim to find the best spot to drive into its interior. The rover spent so long at Victoria that NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter circling the red planet managed to catch its path around the massive crater.
And here's the reason why they chose to leave it now:
Opportunity's handlers decided last month to order the rover to leave Victoria Crater after spotting a power spike in the automaton's left front wheel. The rover steadfastly backtracked along its entry path to get back out, mission managers said.

"We were concerned that any wheel failure on our aging rover could have left us trapped inside the crater," Callas said.
Finally, this is what Opportunity plans to be doing on the plains:
The rover is now poised to begin hunting new targets: chunks of Mars rocks called cobbles that lie strewn across the red planet's surface. Researchers believe the cobbles, which are about the size of a human fist and larger, are chunks of material ejected from impacts that caused craters that are too far away from Opportunity to be fully explored.

The rovers are simply amazing considering they were originally supposed to be active for three months and now it's nearing the end of summer 2008. Note however that their activity (and also that of the Phoenix Lander) also bolsters arguments for those that believe humans should make their way to Mars or other destinations as soon as possible, because in spite of how cheap robotic missions are to send, a human team could have explored the crater in huge detail within a few days, including experiments that the rovers are incapable of.

But then again, one human dying can lead to the cancellation of an entire program, so I still think it's better to stick with robots for the time being. The next destination humans should be sent to in my opinion should be a near-Earth asteroid. A new target, able to be completely explored by a single human team, not too far, and extremely beneficial in any possible future asteroid impacts on the Earth.


3488 said...

Hi mithridates,

Hope you are keeping well.

Yes I think it was right that MER B Opportunity was pulled out of Victoria Crater.

The investigation of the small cobbles is going to be very interesting. Many of those could have been ejected from sites 1000's KM away, uncovering all kinds of new info, from sedimentary rocks, metamorphic to volcanic, or even more meteorites themselves.

I think personally the correct decision was made.

By the way, did you enjoy the Rosetta Asteroid 2867 Šteins encounter? I certainly did & am looking forward very much to the large Asteroid 21 Lutetia encounter in July 2010 very much. Also still enjoying the Phoenix mission, very much.

Andrew Brown 3488.

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