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August 24, 2014 at 11:30 am #8186AnonymousGuest
The 'Opportunity' rover on Mars, which landed there in 2004, now holds the off-Earth roving distance record after accruing 40 kilometres of driving, and is not far from completing the first extra-terrestrial marathon. The previous record was held by the Soviet Lunokhod 2 rover. It is remarkable, since Opportunity was intended to drive only about one kilometre and was never designed for distance. The rover had driven more than 32 kilometres before arriving at Endeavour Crater in 2011, where it has examined outcrops on the crater's rim containing clay and sulphate-bearing minerals. The sites are yielding evidence of ancient environments with less-acidic water than those examined at Opportunity's landing site. If the rover can continue to operate the distance of a marathon — about 42.2 kilometres — it will approach the next major investigation site, dubbed by mission scientists “Marathon Valley'. Observations from spacecraft orbiting Mars suggest that several clay minerals are exposed close together there, surrounded by steep slopes where the relationships between different layers may be evident. The Russian Lunokhod 2 rover, a successor to the first Lunokhod mission in 1970, landed on the Moon on 1973 Jan. 15 and drove about 39 kilometres in less than five months, according to measurements recently made on images from Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter cameras that show Lunokhod 2's tracks.
The next rover that NASA hopes to send to Mars in 2020 will carry seven instruments; its design will be based on that of the highly successful rover, Curiosity, which landed almost two years ago. The new rover will carry improved hardware and new instruments to conduct assessments of the rover's landing site, determine the potential habitability of the environment, and search directly for signs of ancient Martian life. Scientists will use the Mars 2020 rover to identify and select a collection of rock and soil samples that will be stored for potential return to Earth by a future mission. The rover might also help to assess whether future human explorers could use natural resources available on Mars.
Designers of future human expeditions could use the mission to understand the hazards posed by Martian dust and demonstrate technology to process carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen. The experiments will help engineers to learn how to use Martian resources to produce oxygen for human respiration and potentially for use as an oxidizer for rocket fuel. The rover will help to answer questions about the Martian environment that astronauts may face, and test technologies they would need. Mars has resources which could reduce the amount of supplies that human missions will need to carry, and better understanding of Martian dust and weather would be of value for planning human Mars missions.
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