Mars Rover Embarks on Final 'Opportunity'

NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity is set to begin its final mission exploring the surface of the red planet on Tuesday.

Opportunity will reexamine the exterior of the Endeavor crater, concluding a 6-year-long mission, which it began with its twin rover, Spirit.

Both rovers were deployed onto opposite sides of Mars in 2004, where both were scheduled for three-month prime missions that were completed in April of that year. The rovers were set to extended missions over several years, during which clues about Mars' early environment as well as possible indications of microbial life were uncovered.

Spirit was lost to NASA when it got stuck in sand and has not made contact in over a year. NASA established Spirit unsalvageable in May 2011.

"Spirit achieved far more than we ever could have hoped when we designed her," said the rovers' principal investigator, Steve Squyres of Cornell University. "This name will be a reminder that we need to keep pushing as hard as we can to make new discoveries with Opportunity."

Opportunity is now set to complete the task of analyzing the rim of the Endeavor crater solo. Squyres noted that the major aim in this mission is exploring a ridge on the crater which has been named Spirit Point, in honor of the lost rover. It will be the last stop on Opportunity's journey.

Opportunity, which has already explored over 20 miles of Martian surface, including seven miles of the Endeavor crater between the end of 2008 and early 2009, will spend several months and possibly years excavating and examining clay minerals, which scientists say can only be created in wet conditions.

Project manager of the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, John Callas says that Opportunity will not be crossing the crater to reduce the likeliness that it will get stuck but will rather travel along the southern part of the crater until it reaches Spirit Point.

According to Callas, Endeavour is possibly the most important exploratory destination on the surface of the red planet.

"We will likely spend years at this location," he said. "What a destination. It's not just one spot. There's kilometers of interesting geology to explore."

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