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Mars rover finishes first-ever marathon on another world

On Tuesday, the Mars rover Opportunity completed a marathon – 26.2 miles (42.195 kilometers). Its finish time? Eleven years and 2 months.

This illustration depicts some highlights along the route as NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity drove as far as a marathon race during the first 11 years and two months after its January 2004 landing in Eagle Crater. The vehicle surpassed marathon distance of 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) with a drive completed on March 24, 2015, during the 3,968th Martian day, or sol, of Opportunity's work on Mars. For this map, north is on the left. View larger | Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./USGS/Arizona State University

View larger. | This illustration depicts some highlights along the route as NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity. It has now driven as many miles as a marathon race – a first for any Earth vehicle on another world. For this map, north is on the left. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell Univ./USGS/Arizona State University

On March 24, 2015, NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity completed the first marathon run on another planet – 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) – with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months.

The rover landed in Eagle Crater on Mars in January, 2004. It surpassed a marathon distance of 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) with a drive completed on March 24, 2015. It was the rover’s 3,968th Martian day, or sol, on Mars.

John Callas is the Opportunity project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. Callas said:

This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world. A first time happens only once.

The rover team at JPL plans a marathon-length relay run at the laboratory next week to celebrate.

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This map shows the rover's entire traverse from landing to that point. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS

This map shows the rover’s entire traverse from landing to that point. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS/NMMNHS

The long-lived Opportunity rover surpassed the marathon mark during a drive of 153 feet (46.5 meters). Last year, Opportunity became the long-distance champion of all off-Earth vehicles when it topped the previous record set by the former Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 Moon rover.

Steve Squyres is Opportunity principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. He said:

This mission isn’t about setting distance records, of course. It’s about making scientific discoveries on Mars and inspiring future explorers to achieve even more.

Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.

Opportunity’s original three-month prime mission in 2004 yielded evidence of environments with liquid water soaking the ground and flowing on planet’s surface. As the rover continued to operate far beyond expectations for its lifespan, scientists chose the rim of Endeavour Crater as a long-term destination. Since 2011, examinations of Endeavour’s rim have provided information about ancient wet conditions less acidic, and more favorable for microbial life, than the environment that left clues found earlier in the mission.

Bottom line: On March 24, 2015, NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity completed the first-ever marathon run on another planet – 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers) – with a finish time of roughly 11 years and two months.

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