Nasa’s Mars rover Opportunity has managed to climb up and out of the crater that it explored for nearly two months, overcoming a slippery slope that left the vehicle spinning its wheels during an earlier attempt.
Yesterday’s short drive across the sandy inner rim of Eagle Crater placed the rover outside the shallow depression for the first time since it landed on January 24.
“The good news is we successfully charged up the rim,” mission manager Matt Wallace said. Once out, the rover rolled nearly 16.5ft before coming to a stop.
An initial attempt to get out of the crater ended in failure on Sunday. The six-wheel-drive rover could not gain traction while trying to climb straight up the 16-degree slope of the 10ft-deep depression.
So today, Nasa’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sent Opportunity on a diagonal course across the inner rim. That gentler approach worked.
“There was a little bit of nervousness, just because of the unexpected slippage we saw yesterday,” Wallace said last night, adding that the incident made it clear engineers still did not completely understand how the Martian soil affected the rover’s ability to move.
Halfway around Mars, Opportunity’s twin, Spirit, has been exploring the rim of a far larger crater before it strikes out for a distant cluster of hills. It landed on January 3.
Opportunity’s next targets include a rock nicknamed Scoop and a patch of bright soil. Scientists then want to send the vehicle on a 2,600ft drive to another, larger crater.
Nasa launched the twin, $820m (€665.7m) mission to search Mars for evidence the planet once was a wetter place. Opportunity has already uncovered such evidence.
Nasa has arranged a news conference in Washington today to announce what it calls another “major scientific finding” by the mission.
Scientists are expected to provide more details about the watery conditions under which rocks found at Opportunity’s landing site were formed.