History was made Thursday as a 40-year-old record was broken in a place that many know about but no one has ever visited. The Mars exploration rover Opportunity broke NASA’s record for distance driven off world, driving 263 feet on its six little wheels to bring its total distance travelled to 22.22 miles.
This an incredible record to beat and serves as proof of the incredible craft and dedication that goes into every project that NASA creates. And although this record beats NASA’s previous record, the rover still has other records to surmount.
The rover's accomplishment is remarkable, as it shatters the previous off-world distance record set by a NASA rover. Spirit, which operated from 2004 to 2010 on the surface of Mars, only travelled 7.7 kilometers on the Red Planet. The chart below shows some of the longer off-planet, off-road journeys in the years since man went to the moon.
The Opportunity rover broke the NASA record established by established by the Lunar rover in the 1972 Apollo 17 mission, a rather impressive 22.21 miles on the moon. The Lunar rover had a speed of roughly eight miles per hour, a breakneck pace compared to Opportunity’s 0.11 miles per hour. For reference, the average human’s walking speed is roughly three miles per hour.
The key is time. The Lunar rover only operated three days before astronauts Eugene Carmen, Ronald Evans, and Harrison Schmitt had to return to Earth. Opportunity had a mission length of 90 days but has operated roughly 37 times that time.
However, there is still one more record for Opportunity to beat. The former Soviet Union set the global record in 1972 with the rover Lunokhod-2. Lunokhod, or "moon walker" in Russian, went for 23 miles on the moon.
Here's hoping the Opportunity has the spunk and moxie to beat that record and claim the number-one spot. But even with its current record it still has earned its place in the history book.