July 29, 2014 2:39 pm

It just keeps going and going: Mars rover sets solar system record

The gold line on this map shows Opportunity's route from the landing site inside Eagle Crater (upper left) to its location after the July 27 drive.

NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS

TORONTO – Off-roading has reached a new level in the solar system.

NASA’s Mars Opportunity rover – designed to last for 90 days when it reached the red planet in 2004 – is still going. Not only that, but it reached a milestone on July 27: it now holds the off-Earth roving distance record.

READ MORE: Mars ‘doughnut’ mystery solved

So just how many kilometres has Opportunity travelled on the planet? 500? 1000? 5000?

40.

Okay, so that may not seem that impressive, but if you realize that there are no paved roads on Mars, and that the planet’s surface is largely made up of dangerous, pointy stuff, like rocks that can puncture tires, as well as sandy dunes, it’s quite a feat.

In fact, its partner, Spirit, didn’t have quite the stamina Opportunity does. It became stuck in 2010 after tireless attempts by NASA engineers here on Earth sent more than 1,300 commands to try to dislodge it.

This chart provides a comparison of the distances driven by various wheeled vehicles on the surface of Mars and Earth’s moon.

NASA/JPL-Caltech

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“Opportunity has driven farther than any other wheeled vehicle on another world,” said Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in a release Monday. “This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance.”

But Opportunity isn’t done yet: it is still conducting research. Scientists hope that it can reach an area dubbed “Marathon Valley.”

The little rover just broke the record held by Russian Lunokhod 2 rover, which landed on our moon in 1973. Recent calculations concluded that it drove 39 km in less than five months.

In homage to the Russian spacecraft, the rover team named a crater near the rim of the crater Opportunity is exploring Lunokhod 2.

© Shaw Media, 2014

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