NASA’s Opportunity rover has been tentatively checking out the rim of Victoria Crater, gathering as much science as it can before going down inside. Mission controllers announced today that they’ve got all the data they need, and they’re ready to push the rover over the edge, and send it on a potentially one-way journey down into the crater.
A meteor impact created Victoria Crater millions of years ago, blasting though layers of rock, and gouging out a hole on Mars 800 metres across (.5 miles). As Opportunity crawls down the steep slope, it’ll be traveling back in time, observing older and older layers of rock on the exposed walls of the crater. As before, it’s looking for evidence of ancient, wet environments.
They’re not planning on a one-way journey. Even though the rover has lasted 12 times longer than mission planners were expecting (90 days), and its capabilities are reduced, it should be able to crawl back out. The slope shouldn’t get any steeper than 15-20 degrees, and it’s on exposed bedrock for good traction.
Here’s a quote from the principal investigator, Steve Squyres:
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“We don’t want this to be a one-way trip. We still have some excellent science targets out on the plains that we would like to visit after Victoria. But if Opportunity becomes trapped there, it will be worth the knowledge gained.”
Good luck Opportunity, and hang on tight. It’s going to be a wild ride.
Original Source: NASA News Release