March 19, 2009

Opportunity sights destination crater rim

The U.S. space agency says its Mars rover Opportunity is within sight of the horizon of the big crater toward which it has been traveling for six months.

The National Aeronautics and Space Administration said Endeavour Crater, 14 miles in diameter, is still 7 miles from Opportunity as the crow flies and at least 30 percent farther away on routes mapped for evading en route hazards.

NASA scientists said Opportunity has driven about 2 miles since it climbed out of Victoria Crater last August after two years of studying Victoria, which is less than 1-20th the size of Endeavour.

It's exciting to see our destination, even if we can't be certain whether we'll ever get all the way there, said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., project manager for the twin Mars rovers Opportunity and Spirit. At the pace we've made since leaving Victoria, the rest of the trek will take more than a Martian year. A Martian year lasts about 23 months.

Both rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 to begin missions designed to last for three months. Both are still active after more than five years.