You might get a little bit more exhausted than your opponent when running this Marsian race, though. The competition is not too impressive when it comes to speed, however, as we’re talking about you versus NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity, in a 26,209 miles long track, taking a little longer than 11 years to finish.
Steve Squyres, Opportunity principal investigator at Cornell University has not tried to win any prizes for the fastest rover, rather it was a stylish way of celebrating the milestone the Rover team reached in Mars this year (yes, in Mars, on Mars..).
“This mission isn’t about setting distance records; it’s about making scientific discoveries”, Squyres explains. “Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”
Other than running long distance, Rover also has a day job – it gathers any information it can find, that could support the theory that Mars was once a much warmer, wetter and more habitable planet than it is today. It’s focus is looking for signs of ancient water, and its first finding was not much more than just a sign – Rover found rocks that looked like they had been shaped by water. The site where these rocks were found were however surrounded by another sign, that of an environment that would have been to acidic to contain life.
Considering the flight the rover had to take to get to the starting line, about 283 million miles through space, and the humble distance of 50-100 meters it moved per day during the actual “marathon”, we could draw the conclusion that the immigrated Marsian Opportunity is not the vehicle in our solar system with most concerns about time.
So what’s next on the Mars tourist’s to-see list? Well, the Endeavor crater looks promising, mission planners think, with its depth of several hundred meters, that through some analysis of the clay there, could provide the scientists with information about the conditions on Mars even further back in time. The hope is to pinpoint a period were the surface of the planet was less acidic than what’s been measured in samples from later time periods.
It’s not a walk in the park to “run” a marathon on the surface of our neighbor planet – Opportunity nearly faced the “sleep death” at one time, as raging dust storms clogged up it’s solar powered propulsion system. Also, the wheels got caught in drifting sand and gravel, building up around the front of the rover. To top that off, Rover’s right front steering actuator malfunctioned, leaving Opportunity with only one choice left – to complete a part of the race driving backwards. Why give up when you’ve come that far?