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Fri, Sep 29, 2006

Mars Rover Opportunity Reaches Victoria Crater

21-Month Journey Marked By Several Stops On The Way

Send a rover over... just don't hold your breath. NASA reported Thursday the Mars rover Opportunity has finally arrived at the rim of Victoria Crater... after a 21-month journey.

Let's see.. that's 21 months to travel a little under six miles. That's about 15,000 hours... divided by six... well, never mind, it's slow! But slow and steady in this case paid off because Victoria Crater may hold the keys to many questions about Mars... especially about evidence of water discovered at Opportunity's original landing site.

"This is a geologist's dream come true," said Dr. Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for NASA's twin rovers Opportunity and Spirit. "Those layers of rock, if we can get to them, will tell us new stories about the environmental conditions long ago. We especially want to learn whether the wet era that we found recorded in the rocks closer to the landing site extended farther back in time. The way to find that out is to go deeper, and Victoria may let us do that."

Opportunity has been exploring Mars since January 2004... that's 10 times longer than its planned mission length of three months.

"We're so proud of Opportunity, the rover that 'takes a lickin' but keeps on tickin','" said Cindy Oda, a Mars rover mission manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. "It continues to overcome all challenges despite its aging parts and difficult terrain. We are looking forward to exciting new discoveries as Opportunity begins its new adventure exploring Victoria Crater."

To be fair, we may have exaggerated a little about how slow Opportunity is. The trek to Victoria Crater included lots of stops along the way for the rover to inspect interesting rocks and objects... and let's not forget the five weeks it spent stuck in a sand drift last year.

That should bring its average speed up to... well, it's still slow. But we doubt NASA minds.

FMI: www.nasa.gov

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