WASHINGTON, D.C. (BNO NEWS) — NASA on Wednesday announced that its Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity has reached the planet’s Endeavour crater to study rocks never seen before.
On Monday, the golf cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the crater’s rim, after a journey of almost three years. Opportunity was able to drive approximately 13 miles (21 kilometers) after climbing out of the Victoria crater, NASA said.
Endeavour crater is more than 25 times wider than Victoria crater, being 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. At Endeavour, scientists expect to see much older rocks and terrains than those examined by Opportunity during its first seven years on Mars.
NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter first detected clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period, making Endeavour an intriguing destination.
“NASA is continuing to write remarkable chapters in our nation’s story of exploration with discoveries on Mars and trips to an array of challenging new destinations,” NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. “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,” he added.
Matthew Golombek, Mars Exploration Rover science team member at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said the exploration will allow sampling of a rock type the rovers had not seen before. “Clay minerals form in wet conditions so we may learn about a potentially habitable environment that appears to have been very different from those responsible for the rocks comprising the plains.”
NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003. Both completed their three-month prime missions in April 2004 and continued years of extended operations. They made important discoveries about wet environments on ancient Mars that may have been favorable for supporting microbial life.
In search for evidence that water persisted on the Martian surface for a long period of time, NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter was launched on August 12, 2005. Other Mars missions have shown water flowed across the surface in the planet’s history, but scientists have not determined if water remained long enough to provide a habitat for life.