25km… and counting…

At some point during her drive away from Intrepid crater – without any great fanfare from or celebrations within NASA – Oppy passed a very, very significant milesone in her epic trek across the great desert of Meridiani…

Look closely at that picture – a screengrab from Google Earth, featuring Eduardo Tesheiner’s fantastic .kml file which is tracking Oppy’s adventure – and you’ll see a marker pin labelled simply “25km”, illustrating that that is where Oppy reached the 25km mark in her travels.

25km.

Twenty. Five. Kilometres.

To you and I, 25km is nothing, we don’t think twice about it. It’s No Big Deal. It’s, what, barely half an hour’s drive? It’s probably WALKABLE in an afternoon. But to a solar powered Mars rover, 25 km is *this* close to miraculous.

Why? Well, take a look at this paragraph from a NASA press release given ou at the very start of the MER mission…

The Mars rovers were each designed to travel just 1 km (actually, James Canvin has pointed out they were hoping/aiming for more like 600m!) during a mission lasting just 90 days. Less than 1km in 90 days. At the time, the people behind the mission were quite prepared for the rovers to die on Sol (day) 91, having spent three months exploring Mars. But as we all know, that’s not the way turned out. As you can see from this ‘update’ graphic on the main MER website, the rovers have both lasted rather longer, and travelled quite a bit further, than expected…

Opportunity is now 2,334 days past the end of her original “90 day mission”, and is steaming towards Endeavour crater. Let’s put that into some perspective, shall we..?

The red line on the image below shows how far Oppy had travelled by Sol 90 – the end of her primary mission…

And where is she now, all those Sols later..?

She’s 25km away from her landing site, Eagle Crater, that’s where! 🙂

Let’s take a look back at her amazing journey across Meridiani…

…and here’s where Oppy is now, heading away from Intrepid crater and heading towards Santa Maria crater, almost 1.5km away…

So the distance Oppy now has to travel to reach Santa Maria is greater than the TOTAL distance we all hoped she would drive at the start of her mission. How incredible is that?

Looking at it from another perspective, this is how far Oppy has driven since landing, if she had landed on Earth, and her landing site was my own yard…

So, what of the future? Well, let’s look at the Big Picture…

The yellow line shows Oppy’s journey so far – from her historic landing site at Eagle crater, all those years and months ago, to her current position just east of Intrepid crater. The white line shows the route she will take to Endeavour’s rim, via Santa Maria crater. Doesn’t look that far, does it?

Cape York, Oppy’s anticipated “landfall” site at Endeavour, is still 7.6km away.

The brutal, terrifying truth that every MER fan and follower knows in their heart but can’t bear to think about – is that every dawn could be Oppy’s last. Every tick of the clock brings another second which might be the moment something goes “ping!” or “twang!” inside Oppy, and her epic trek grinds to a halt, with the faraway hills of Endeavour on the horizon – where they will always remain. Oppy’s mission could end in a hundred different ways: her weary computers could fail. A wheel could jam. Her camera mast might freeze. Her communications equipment could break. She could “do a Spirit” and unwittingly drive into a hidden dustbowl…

…but we try not to dwell on things like that. Instead we celebrate each time we go online and find a new set of images from Oppy, and each sol we count off the metres remaining between where we are and the rim of Endeavour.

Keep on driving, Oppy.

Keep on driving.

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5 Responses to 25km… and counting…

  1. James Canvin says:

    Stu, I beleve that the mission success criteria was even less than 1km, just 600m in fact!

  2. Phil says:

    Great post Stu, as always. But…. “To you and I, 25km is nothing, we don’t think twice about it. It’s No Big Deal. It’s, what, barely an hour’s drive?” Is that in bicycle time? 🙂

    • phoenixpics says:

      Thanks Phil, yeah I was maybe being a bit conservative there… but I was basing it on driving on caravan-jammed Lake District roads! 😉

  3. Joe Smith says:

    Very nice Blog.
    The odds of Opportunity making it to Endeavor are slim indeed.
    But haven’t they always been?

    Joe in Texas

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