The chart above provides a comparison of the distances driven by various wheeled vehicles on the surface of Mars and Earth’s moon. Of the vehicles shown, NASA’s Mars rovers Opportunity and Curiosity are still active and the totals listed are distances driven as of July 28, 2014. The day before, July 27, the Opportunity rover passed 25 miles driven – an off-world driving distance record. Opportunity has gone farther than any other earthly wheeled vehicle on another world. It’s especially remarkable, NASA says, because Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer (.6 mile) and was never designed for distance.
If the rover can continue to operate the distance of a marathon – 26.2 miles (about 42.2 kilometers) – it’ll approach the next major investigation site mission scientists have dubbed Marathon Valley.
Observations from spacecraft orbiting Mars suggest several clay minerals are exposed close together at this valley site, surrounded by steep slopes where the relationships among different layers may be evident.
The runner up in off-world distance driving is a Russian vehicle, the Lunokhod 2 rover. A successor to the first Lunokhod mission in 1970, Lunokhod 2 landed on Earth’s moon on January 15, 1973. The rover drove about 24.2 miles (39 kilometers) in less than five months, according to calculations recently made using images from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) cameras, which reveal Lunokhod 2’s tracks.
Bottom line: NASA’s Opportunity rover, still going after 10 years on Mars, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record with 25 miles of driving.
Eleanor Imster has helped write and edit EarthSky since 1995. She was an integral part of the award-winning EarthSky radio series almost since it began until it ended in 2013. Today, as Lead Editor at EarthSky.org, she helps present the science and nature stories and photos you enjoy. She also serves as one of the voices of EarthSky on social media platforms including Facebook, Twitter and G+. She and her husband live in Tennessee and have two grown sons.