Mars rover breaks off-world driving record

By Casey Frye, CCNN Writer

Moon driving
NASA’s Opportunity has skated past the competition, breaking the off-world driving distance record for the first time in 41 years.

NASA’s Mars rover, Opportunity, landed on the Red Planet back in 2004, with the expectation that it would only stick around for a 90-day visit and drive about 0.6 miles. Now, a decade later, the rover has just broken a 41-year-old driving distance world record, after crossing the 25-mile mark.

“No one in their wildest dreams thought the rover would last this long,” said John Callas, the mission project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge. “People made bets early on – ‘Maybe we can get to the first Martian winter,’ ‘Maybe we can get two years out of it’ – but no one thought that it would last this long.”

The previous champion was Russia’s Moon rover, Lunokhod 2, which had traveled 24.2 miles. It was sent by Russia in 1973, and went 24.2 miles in under 5 months. While Opportunity definitely took its time in comparison, it made some tremendous discoveries along the way, like evidence of drinkable water in Mars’ past. This means that Mars could have potentially been a life-friendly environment in the past! Should the Opportunity manage to survive 1.2 more miles, it will get to Marathon Valley, which has clay-rich layers that can provide unique evidence of the Red Planet’s rocky history.

Images courtesy of NASA.