Opportunity Rover Keeps Setting New Martian Records
It's no Tesla Roadster. It can only manage a top speed of 5 cm per second or the equivalent just under two American football fields per hour (590 ft/hr). But it is electric and on its 11th anniversary of landing on Mars, it continues to set new records for off-world EVs.
NASA's "Opportunity" rover, technically known as MER-B (MER-A is its twin, "Spirit" rover) celebrated its eleventh anniversary on the Red planet January 25th. Three weeks earlier it sent back to Earth a stunning panoramic view from the top of "Cape Tribulation" on the edge of Endeavor Crater, itself some 14 miles (22 km) in diameter.
While only intended to operate for three months, at the most, it is now, as of this writing, some 3,915 Martian days into its record setting mission, not only in duration, but also in distance travelled. The previous record for out-of-this-world driving distance was held by the Russian Lunar probe, Lunokhod 2 in 1973. That vehicle traveled 39 km (24.2 miles). As of January 21, 2015, reports NASA, Opportunity has travelled some 41.80 km (25.97 miles).
The six-wheeled rover uses independent electric hub motors for traction, with electric power provided by lithium-ion batteries. These are recharged by light from the distance Sun on 140W solar 'wings' that give the 185 kg (408 lbs.) electric vehicle an almost incest-like appearance.
Recently, Opportunity has been experiencing some computer memory issues, for which NASA engineers now believe they have a remedy having to do with its flash file system.
Its 'Spirit' twin on the opposite side of the planet ceased transmitting after it became stuck in a sand dune in 2010.
Meanwhile, the VW Beetle-size Curiosity rover continues to explore its own region of Mars, occasionally also stirring up a bit of controversy from supposed alien artifacts to the most recent: a 'selfie' some see as depicting a humoid-like creature in shadow leaning over the craft. Here is a link to that photo. Below is a chart showing the comparative distances travelled by various previous off-world missions from tiny 'Sojourner' in 1997 to Apollo 17 in 1972 and Lunokhod 2 in 1973.
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