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In attempting several times this past week to climb the steepest ever tried by a rover on Mars and failing, Opportunity has moved on to a new less challenging target.
The rover’s tilt hit 32 degrees on March 10 while Opportunity was making its closest approach to an intended target near the crest of “Knudsen Ridge.”
Engineers anticipated that Opportunity’s six aluminum wheels would slip quite a bit during the uphill push, so they commanded many more wheel rotations than would usually be needed to travel the intended distance. Results from the drive were received in the next relayed radio report from the rover: The wheels did turn enough to have carried the rover about 66 feet (20 meters) if there had been no slippage, but slippage was so great the vehicle progressed only about 3.5 inches (9 centimeters). This was the third attempt to reach the target and came up a few inches short.
The rover team reached a tough decision to skip that target and move on.
Having operated thirteen years longer than originally planned, the science and engineering team that operates the Mars rover Opportunity are increasingly willing to try more risky things. For example, the valley the rover is in, called Marathon Valley, is actually an east-west slice through the rim of 14-mile-wide Endeavour Crater. Traveling into that slice towards the crater’s interior is a far riskier trip than ever dreamed of by Opportunity’s designs more than a decade ago.