NASA rover completes Mars 'walkabout'

Dec. 4, 2012 at 8:39 PM
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SAN FRANCISCO, Dec. 4 (UPI) -- NASA says the next science assignment for its long-lived Mars rover Opportunity is a further examination of an area where the robot just completed a walkabout.

Presenting the rover's current activities at the Fall Meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, Steve Squyres, the mission's principal investigator at Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., said Opportunity had successfully completed its recent marching orders.

"If you are a geologist studying a site like this, one of the first things you do is walk the outcrop, and that's what we've done with Opportunity," he said.

Opportunity, still is a capable robotic explorer after nine years on Mars, has been investigating a crater-rim site where observations from orbiting Mars spacecraft detected traces of minerals that form under wet, non-acidic conditions that can be favorable for life.

Opportunity drove about 1,160 feet in a counterclockwise circuit around the crater rim region in October and November, bringing the total miles driven on the mission to 22.

"We've got a list of questions posed by the observations so far," Squyres said. "We did this walkabout to determine the most efficient use of time to answer the questions. Now we have a good idea what we're dealing with, and we're ready to start the detailed work."

NASA launched Opportunity and its sister rover Spirit in 2003 on a mission to learn about the history of wet environments on ancient Mars. NASA landed its Curiosity rover on the Red Planet in August.

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