Mars Exploration Rover Update - April 17, 2004

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OPPORTUNITY UPDATE: Record-Setting Drive - sol 81 & 82, Apr 17, 2004 Three days after switching to new software with mobility-enhancing features, NASA's Opportunity shattered the record for a single day's driving on Mars. The rover covered 140.9 maters (462 feet) during its 82nd sol on Mars, ending at 2:15 p.m. PDT, Saturday, May 17. That is about

40 meters farther than either the best previous one-day drive, by Opportunity two weeks ago, or the total distance covered by NASA's smaller Sojourner rover during its entire three-month mission in 1997. The first 55 meters (180 feet) was done as a "blind" guided drive based on images acquired previously. Speed during that session averaged 120 meters (394 feet) per hour. For the rest, Opportunity used autonomous navigation, watching for obstacles, choosing its own path, and averaging 40 meters (131 feet) per hour. After the drive, the rover took forward-looking images for planning the next drive. On the previous martian day, sol 81, Opportunity awoke with its alpha particle X-ray spectrometer on a soil target called "Beagle Burrow" inside a trench the rover had dug on sol 73. The rover removed the instrument arm, stowed it, then backed up to image the trench before driving toward a crater nicknamed "Fram Crater." Opportunity then completed a 7.5-meter (24.6-foot) drive to a trough to image a rock outcrop within it with the panoramic camera. After a bit of guided driving, the rover set out using its autonomous navigation. The sol 81 drive totaled more than 40 meters (131 feet). Nearly reaching the second of four waypoints on the way to Fram Crater, the rover imaged its new surroundings to identify any future driving hazards. An afternoon nap preceded sol 81's final science session, atmospheric observations with the miniature thermal emission spectrometer and the panoramic camera. Rover controllers devoted sol 82 to driving after some morning atmospheric observations and a quick look back with the panoramic camera. The record-setting run took three hours -- a good time for a marathon. It brought Opportunity to within about 90 meters (295 feet) of Fram Crater. It also took Opportunity over the 600-meter threshold, a criterion that had been set for at least one of the Mars Exploration Rovers to achieve in order for the mission to be called a success. Opportunity has now traveled 627.7 meters (0.39 mile). Spirit passed the 600-meter threshold two weeks ago. Rover wake-up music for sol 82 was "I Would Walk 500 Miles," by Less Than Jake (originally by the Proclaimers). For sol 83, ending at 2:54 p.m. PDT, Sunday, April 18, another drive day is planned for Opportunity, with a goal of getting the rover close to Fram Crater. Scientists then plan to use Opportunity for some investigations of that location.
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