Long-running Mars rover Opportunity in long uphill climb for science

Oct. 24, 2013 at 6:43 PM

PASADENA, Calif., Oct. 24 (UPI) -- NASA researchers say the agency's long-running Mars rover Opportunity has begun climbing the tallest hill it has encountered in its nearly 10 years on Mars.

The Mars Exploration Rover has begun climbing a portion of "Solander Point," which peaks at about 130 feet above the surrounding plains, NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., reported.

Opportunity will make its way up the hill much as a field geologist would, exploring outcrops on the peak's northwestern slopes, researchers said.

"This is our first real Martian mountaineering with Opportunity," principal rover investigator Steve Squyres of Cornell University said. "We expect we will reach some of the oldest rocks we have seen with this rover -- a glimpse back into the ancient past of Mars."

Solander Point forms an elevated portion of the western rim of 14-mile diameter Endeavour Crater that contains materials uplifted by the great impact that excavated the crater billions of years ago.

Opportunity began its current climbing campaign Oct. 8 and has advanced farther uphill with three subsequent drives, JPL said.

Opportunity landed on Mars Jan. 25, 2004, three weeks after its twin rover Spirit got there.

Spirit ceased operations in 2010, but Opportunity is still working and facilitating scientific discoveries.

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