Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Friday, September 29, 2006

The Opportunity of Victoria on Mars

After over 900 days of roaming the Martian deserts and traveling four and a half miles of desiccated wasteland, the Martian Robot Vehicle, Opportunity has finally arrived at the rim of giant Victoria Crater. Victoria crater is half a mile wide and 230 feet deep. The create features steep walls and a sandy, dune lined bottom. Photos taken from orbit show very thick layers of rock were exposed by the cosmic impact that created the feature eons ago. To planetary scientists it is like looking into Mars’s distant past, exposed layer by layer down over 200 feet into the Martian crust.

The temptation is, of course, to drive the rover safely down into the crater and find a convenient escarpment to study with the robot traveler’s many instruments. But in April 2005, this same rover got stuck in soft sand and stayed stuck for five weeks while engineers millions of miles away tried every trick in their manual and them some to get it unstuck from Purgatory Dune. Obviously, after that lesson learned, they will certainly pick the track into the crater with care.

But you have got to love this whole grand adventure taking place for real at about 230 million miles from earth. Driving into a crater as deep as a skyscraper will be fantastic enough. But if we can coax the aged robot down to the floor and turn around and look back up, it should prove to be an astonishing view of the crater walls.

For continuous updates on Opportunity as she begins her Victoria Crater adventure and Spirit, still hibernating half a planet away in the gathering Martin spring, click here.

(The image above shows the crater as seen from orbit and the crater wall as seen by Opportunity a few days ago.)