Mars Rover Beats 41-Year-Old Apollo Driving Record
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
It took nine years traveling around the surface of the Red Planet, but NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has finally surpassed a record set by Apollo 17 astronauts over 40 years ago.
In 1972, astronauts Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt drove their Lunar Roving Vehicle 22.21 statute miles over a three-day period. At the time, this was the farthest total distance for any NASA vehicle driving on a stellar body other than Earth. However, after roving around the Red Planet for nearly a decade, Opportunity has finally broken this record.
NASA announced on Thursday that Opportunity drove another 263 feet, bringing its total distance traveled since landing on Mars in January 2004 to 22.22 statute miles.
“The record we established with a roving vehicle was made to be broken, and I’m excited and proud to be able to pass the torch to Opportunity,” Cernan said.
Opportunity started off its trek earlier this week from an area called Cape York where it has been working since mid-2011, driving to another area about 1.4 miles away called Solander Point.
The Soviet Union holds the international record with a total driving distance of 23 miles. Its remote-controlled Lunokhod 2 rover rolled around the surface of the moon in 1973 to accomplish that feat.
In 2010, researchers were able to use NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) to pinpoint the location of a long lost light reflector on the lunar surface by bouncing laser signals from Earth to the Russian rover.
“The best signal we´ve seen from Lunokhod 2 in several years of effort is 750 return photons, but we got about 2,000 photons from Lunokhod 1 on our first try. It´s got a lot to say after almost 40 years of silence,” said Tom Murphy, an associate professor of physics at the University of California San Diego.
“We could only search one football-field-sized region at a time, so without LRO, we never would have found it. But with the new coordinates, we found the signal promptly at the very edge of our available window.”