It took Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity three years to get there, but it recently made it to the edge of Endeavor Crater, a 14-mile wide crater that has shown evidence of holding life-sustaining water in the past.
The 13-mile journey was a painstaking process for the rover, which first landed on the Red Planet back in 2004 and has been gathering data about the makeup of the land and its topography in the time since its arrival. The rover, which was originally one half of a two-rover team on the planet, previously explored the Victoria Crater, a smaller crater on the planet’s surface.
The decision to send the rover to Endeavor was made after the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter detected clay minerals in the vicinity of the crater — an indication that the area was once a much warmer, wetter environment that would’ve been more able to sustain life.
“Opportunity’s findings and data from the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory will play a key role in making possible future human missions to Mars and other places where humans have not yet been,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden when Opportunity’s arrival at the crater was announced.
Both Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, were initially tasked with three-month missions on the planet’s surface, but remained functional long after their original studies were completed. Spirit ceased communication in March 2010, prompting NASA to dub the area where Opportunity first arrived at Endeavor Crater’s rim “Spirit Point.”
“Our arrival at this destination is a reminder that these rovers have continued far beyond the original three-month mission,” said John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Photo of Endeavor Crater courtesy of NASA