"Mountaineer" Opportunity climbs the tough martian landscape

NASA's Opportunity Mars Rover solves some difficult issues on the ground, having met the 12th year of work on the Red Planet.

Opportunity began to climb a 30-degree slope known as the Knudsen Ridge at the end of last month, trying to reach and study the Martian stones, which may have been exposed to liquid water billions of years ago.

The six-wheeled robot is very well fixed on the slope. This is the coolest place that Opportunity has been engaged in since March 2004. Reached the place managed only two months after he landed on the Red Planet.

“Opportunity showed us how it’s still not stumbling,” said Mars Call Rover Project Manager at NASA’s Pasadena, California, Mars Rover Project Manager. “The wheel slip was much smaller than we expected on such steep slopes.”

The Knudsen Ridge is located at the top of the southern shoulder of the Marathon Valley (it got its name because the odometer showed that Opportunity passed 26.2 miles or 42.2 km - the length of the marathon race on Earth).

Opportuny Forklifts study friable rocks within the “red zones” of the Knudsen Ranges, which stand out from the environment due to the color of their bedrock. The rover has already studied several red rocks in some parts of the lower reaches of the Marathon Valley, but the team members want to look at materials that have received a “net impact”. “We hope to take advantage of the steep topography that Mars offers as a Knudsen ridge to get to the best samples of the red zone materials,” said principal investigator Steve Squires from Cornell University in Ithaca, New York

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, a few weeks after its twin Spirit. Both rovers began to hunt for signs of past water activity on the Red Planet, and both quickly found much evidence of this.

Many of the rocks studied by Opportuny near the landing site, according to scientists, were exposed to acidic water. But NASA noticed signs of clay minerals (a kind of layered silicate) in the Marathon Valley region. Researchers say that layered silicates confirm interaction in the past with more neutral, life-friendly water.

“The locations of the red zones in the Marathon Valley are closely correlated with the phyllosilicate signature that we see from orbit,” said Squires. “We want to deal with their chemical composition, to understand what distinguishes them from each other and in what respects the material is with water.”

Spirit and Opportunity were initially assigned the important task of a three-month mission, but the rovers the size of a golf cart rumbled before the warranty period. Spirit stopped communicating with Earth in March 2010, and was declared dead a year later. At the same time, Opportunity continues to study. It bypasses the Endeavor crater 14 miles wide (22 km) from August 2011 (the Knudsen Ridge lies along the western rim of the crater). Opportunity is moving farther and farther along the surface of another world, having traveled more distance than any vehicle in history. The rover odometer currently counts 26.51 miles (42.66 km).

The opportunity already gives out some signs of their old age. Last year, the rover began to experience problems with flash memory, which can store data even when the power is turned off.

“Only data received from Opportunity is something that can be transmitted every day before the solar rovers of the rover are turned off for an energy-efficient night's sleep,” a NASA employee wrote in the same statement.

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