July 3, 2013
NASA Opportunity Trip To Key Mars Destination Is Half Over
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
NASA said its Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the halfway point while on route to its next destination: Solander Point.
Opportunity is now more than half of the distance needed to get from a site where it spent 22 months to the next destination. NASA said the rover has less than half a mile to go to finish the 1.2-mile trek from one crater-rim segment called "Cape York" towards "Solander Point."
"We are making very good progress crossing 'Botany Bay,'" said John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, who is project manager for the nearly decade-old mission.
The Martian rover departed the Cape York region six weeks ago and began its trip south. Both segments are raised portions of the western rim of 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. The new region offers access to older geological deposits than the previous areas the rover visited during its first seven years on Mars.
"The surface that Opportunity is driving across in Botany Bay is polygonally fractured outcrop that is remarkably good for driving," said Brad Joliff, an Opportunity science team member and long-term planner at Washington University in St. Louis. "The plates of outcrop, like a tiled mosaic pavement, have a thin covering of soil, not enough to form the wind-blown ripples we've had to deal with during some other long treks. The outcrop plates are light-toned, and the cracks between them are filled with dark, basaltic soil and our old friends the 'blueberries.'"
Blueberries are hematite-rich, erosion-resistant concretions Opportunity discovered at its landing site and continued seeing on much of the ground between there and Endeavour Crater.
The rise of Solander Point to the south gives the team a visible destination to drive to. Solander Point offers a tall cross section of rock layers for examination, as well as an expanse of terrain that includes a north-facing slope. This area is favorable for the solar-powered rover to stay active and mobile through the coming Martian southern-hemisphere winter.
Next week, NASA will be celebrating the 10th anniversary of Opportunity's last moments on Earth as it launched towards the Red Planet. When the rover launched a decade ago, many thought it would be a relatively short, three-month mission. However, Opportunity has proven to be resilient over time, unlike its twin rover Spirit.
Solander Point will be offering Opportunity a dual purpose, the first of which is scientific exploration while the second is a chance to charge up. This area will allow the rover to tilt its solar panels, allowing it to power up for the Martian winter.