Moving in someone else's landscape is not easy, but NASA's Opportunity rover again and again proves that he is the reigning Mars champion off-road. Alas, all champions have a limit and it seems that the robot veteran met his.
During the exploration of the Marathon Valley slope on the western edge of the Endavur crater, 14 miles wide, in the Meridian Plateau, the rover drivers at NASA's Passenger Jet Laboratory in Pasadena, California, made a bold decision to command Opportunity to climb the steepest climb in 12 years of exploration of Mars.
In an attempt to reach the goal near the Knudsen Ridge, on March 10 a 6-wheel all-terrain vehicle was supposed to climb a slope of 32 degrees. Anticipating some slip, all-terrain route planners added a lot more wheel spins to cover the distance. To climb the hill, Opportunity was not afraid to do everything possible to climb up the slope.
After the third attempt, when the planned rotation of the wheels was completed, the tenacious rover managed to move only 9 centimeters (3, 5 inches) up the hill. The planned rotation of the wheels would allow the Opportunity to advance 20 meters (66 feet) on a flat surface without sliding, so it became clear that Opportunity wasted its aluminum wheels in a dusty surface. The LRD team decided that this hill was very steep and was planning an alternative route to the new target further west. Since then, Opportunity has made 8 trips, including a backward maneuver downhill by 8.2 meters (27 feet), and then back upwards by 60 meters (200 feet) towards its new goal.
It is interesting that Opportunity turned the retreat into the Marathon Valley into an opportunity to clean dust off its solar panels. “Dropped! Opportunity tried to make a steep climb. Oblique driving and vibration removed dust from solar panels, ”appeared on Thursday on the official all-terrain vehicle page on Twitter with a photo showing dust streams sliding along its upper surface:
Opportunity took this last challenge in his campaign, this insurmountable slope was left in the past and the change of plan should not affect the objectives of the mission. Both designated and alternative targets can reveal the secret of Mars’s wet past. Driven by NASA's Mars Reconnaissance satellite orbiter, Opportunity was aimed at clay deposits discovered from orbit, basic minerals that could only be formed in the steady surface waters of ancient Mars.
At a time when the rover shows signs of old age, it certainly proves its suitability, showing us that it will at least try to deal with the challenges that Mars throws to it.