Mars Rover Opportunity Ascends to Level Ground
Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has climbed out of the large
crater that it had been examining from the inside since last September.
Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity climbed out of "Victoria
Crater" following the tracks it had made when it descended
into the 800-meter-diameter (half-mile-diameter) bowl nearly
a year earlier. The rover’s navigation camera captured
this view back into the crater just after finishing a 22
drive that brought Opportunity out onto level ground.
rover is back on flat ground," an engineer who drives
it, Paolo Bellutta of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, announced
to the mission’s international team of scientists and engineers.
used its own entry tracks from nearly a year ago as the path
for a drive of 6.8 meters (22 feet) bringing the rover out
over the top of the inner slope and through a sand ripple at
the lip of Victoria Crater. The exit drive, conducted late
Thursday, completed a series of drives covering 50 meters (164
feet) since the rover team decided about a month ago that it
had completed its scientific investigations inside the crater.
headed to the next adventure out on the plains of Meridiani," said
JPL’s John Callas, project manager for Opportunity and its
twin Mars rover, Spirit. "We safely got into the crater,
we completed our exploration there, and we safely got out.
We were concerned that any wheel failure on our aging rover
could have left us trapped inside the crater."
mission has focused on Victoria Crater for more than half of
the 55 months since the rover landed in the Meridiani Planum
region of equatorial Mars. The crater spans about 800 meters
(half a mile) in diameter and reveals rock layers that hold
clues to environmental conditions of the area through an extended
period when the rocks were formed and altered.
selected Victoria as the next major destination after Opportunity
exited smaller Endurance Crater in late 2004. The ensuing 22-month
traverse to Victoria included stopping for studies along the
route and escaping from a sand trap. The rover first reached
the rim of Victoria in September 2007. For nearly a year, it
then explored partway around the rim, checking for the best
entry route and examining from above the rock layers exposed
in a series of promontories that punctuate the crater perimeter.
Opportunity has finished exploring Victoria Crater and returned
to the surrounding plain, the rover team plans to use tools
on the robotic arm in coming months to examine an assortment
of cobbles — rocks about fist-size and larger — that may
have been thrown from impacts that dug craters too distant
for Opportunity to reach.