After a nearly three year journey, NASA's Mars rover "Opportunity" has reached its destination at a edge of a crater-rim , sending back photographs of never seen before rocks.
On Aug. 9, the golf cart-sized rover relayed its arrival at a location named Spirit Point on the planet's Endeavor crater. The crater is 14 miles in diameter.
"NASA is continuing to write remarkable chapters in our nation's story of exploration with discoveries on Mars and trips to an array of challenging new destinations," NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said. "Opportunity's findings and data from the upcoming Mars Science Laboratory will play a key role in making possible future human missions to Mars and other places where humans have not yet been."
Scientists are hoping to see much older rocks and terrains than those examined by Opportunity during its first seven years on Mars, especially after researchers identified clay minerals that may have formed in an early warmer and wetter period.
"We're soon going to get the opportunity to sample a rock type the rovers haven't seen yet," said Matthew Golombek, Mars Exploration Rover science team member, at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. "Clay minerals form in wet conditions so we may learn about a potentially habitable environment that appears to have been very different from those responsible for the rocks comprising the plains."
NASA chose to name the destination Spirit Point to commemorate its other rover which stopped communicating in March 2010. Spirit's mission officially concluded in May.
"Our arrival at this destination is a reminder that these rovers have continued far beyond the original three-month mission," said John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at JPL.
NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter, which launched Aug. 12, 2005, is searching for evidence that water persisted on the Martian surface for a long period of time.
Other Mars missions have shown water flowed across the surface in the planet's history, but scientists have not determined if water remained long enough to provide a habitat for life.
NASA launched the Mars rovers Spirit and Opportunity in the summer of 2003, and after completing their missions in April 2004, have been operating for years on extended missions.