NASA’s Opportunity rover landed on the surface of Mars in January of 2004. As of Sunday (July 26), the Opportunity rover had driven a total distance of 25 miles (40 kilometers).
Opportunity took the top spot in total off-world distance traveled by surpassing Russia’s Lunokhod 2 lunar rover, which traveled a total distance of 39 kilometers across the surface of the moon between January and May of 1973.
The Russian rover helped to bring about a golden age of space exploration in the 70s. As a sign of respect, the Opportunity rover’s operators decided to commemorate the Russian rover by naming one of the first craters they encountered after it.
The craziest part of this record is that the Opportunity rover was only expected to travel a short distance when it was first sent to Mars in 2004. Here’s John Callas, who manages the Mars Exploration Project at NASA’s Jet-Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California:
“This is so remarkable considering Opportunity was intended to drive about one kilometer and was never designed for distance. But what is really important is not how many miles the rover has racked up, but how much exploration and discovery we have accomplished over that distance.”
The Opportunity rover is collecting data on Mars as part of a long-term plan for a manned mission to the planet around the year 2030.
The infographic below compares the distances driven by different rovers throughout the years. Click to enlarge (courtesy of NASA/JPL-Caltech):
On July 20, 1969, at 9:30 p.m. Houston time (where NASA’s command center is located), American astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong arrived on the surface of the moon aboard their lunar lander the Eagle.
Armstrong was the first to exit the Eagle. 600 million people sat glued to their TV screens as he took his first step onto the moon, saying the now-famous line,
“That’s one small step for man… one giant leap for mankind.”
Aldrin followed closely behind Armstrong. As he disembarked from the lander, he said,
“Beautiful! Beautiful! Magnificent desolation.”
The astronauts gathered 50 pounds of lunar rock, did a number of experiments and planted an American flag on the surface (that flag was actually blown over by the exhaust from the lander as the astronauts left the surface of the moon).
They also took quite a lot of pictures. Check out some of the more rare photos from NASA’s archives of the Apollo 11 mission. Click an image to enlarge:
Mission commander Neil Armstrong during the Earth orbit phase before the lunar landing (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
Mike Collins, who piloted the command module, and a floating camera (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
Photo of Earth taken during the Earth orbit phase (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
An aerial shot of the U.S. and Mexico during the Earth orbit phase (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
A photo looking back at Earth as the crew headed for the moon (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
The docking target on the lunar module as seen from the command module (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
Composite photo of the lunar module’s drogue inside the command module. This piece of machinery created drag to help stabilize the lunar lander (Photo: Jon Hancock/NASA)
Composite image of Buzz Aldrin and the interior of the Eagle lunar module (Photo: Photo: Jon Hancock/NASA)
Buzz Aldrin listens to a transmission from mission control in Houston (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
Arrival at the moon. A picture of the surface (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
A picture of the Eagle from the command module after it undocked (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
Sunrise over the Tranquility Base (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
A picture of a rising Earth from behind the thrusters of the lunar module (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
The lunar module prepares to land. You can see Crater Hartmann (closer) and Crater Green (further away) (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
The shadow of the Eagle after it landed at Tranquility Base on the moon (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
The first photo taken by Armstrong after he stepped on the moon (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
A photo Armstrong took of Aldrin exiting the Eagle. (Photo: Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive/composite by Ed Hengeveld)
Buzz Aldrin’s boot/footprint during testing of the lunar soil (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
Armstrong takes a picture of his shadow with the Eagle in the background (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
Armstrong works at the lunar module with the American flag behind him (Photo: NASA)
Armstrong back in the lunar module after the historic moonwalk (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
Buzz Aldrin in the lunar module following his moonwalk (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
Panoramic taken from the lunar module before and after the moonwalk (Photo: NASA)
A photo of the returning lunar module as Earth peeks over the moon in the background. Taken from the command module (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
The “crescent Earth” taken during the return trip (Photo: Image Science and Analysis Laboratory, NASA-Johnson Space Center)
July 24: Splashdown! The crew hangs out in the lander’s inflatable boat waiting to be picked up (Photo: NASA/Project Apollo Archive)
After the end of World War II and the fall of Nazi Germany, two major global powers emerged: Russia in the east, and the United States (along with its NATO allies) in the west.
More than anything, the Cold War was an arms race. Both sides had built up their nuclear arsenals during the war, and both were fearful of having less firepower than the other. Many people thought that an all-out nuclear war was imminent.
During this period, the U.S. military came up with the idea of dropping a nuclear bomb on the moon as a show of force.
Leonard Reiffel was the physicist who headed the project at the U.S. military-backed Armour Research Foundation in the late 1950s.
In 2000, he sat down for an interview with The Observer to tell the story:
“It was clear the main aim of the proposed detonation was a PR exercise and a show of one-upmanship. The Air Force wanted a mushroom cloud so large it would be visible on earth…
The explosion would obviously be best on the dark side of the moon and the theory was that if the bomb exploded on the edge of the moon, the mushroom cloud would be illuminated by the sun.”
Reiffel also pointed out that a big influence on the idea was the fact that we were lagging behind in the “Space Race”.
In July of 1955, during the height of the Cold War, the United States announced that it would be launching satellites into space. Not to be outdone, Russia announced their own satellite project four days later. The U.S. lost that leg of the race when Russia launched Sputnik in October of 1957.
Reiffel voiced his concerns as a scientist about the idea of nuking the moon, but they seemed to fall upon deaf ears:
“I made it clear at the time there would be a huge cost to science of destroying a pristine lunar environment, but the US Air Force were mainly concerned about how the nuclear explosion would play on earth.”
In 1958, officers from the Air Force had asked Reiffel to ‘fast-track’ a project to investigate what a nuclear explosion on the moon would look like, and what it’s effects would be.
So he hired none other than a young Carl Sagan to do the calculation of how a nuclear mushroom cloud would expand in the low gravity environment on the moon.
Sagan, who pioneered for the study of potential life on other planets, would later become famous for popularizing science in mainstream culture with his show “The Cosmos”.
Despite the highly classified nature of the project, it was later revealed to his biographer that Sagan actually discussed parts of the project in his application for the prestigious Miller Institute graduate fellowship at Berkley (he got in, of course).
Either way, top-secret project A119: ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’, never came to fruition. Reiffel ended his story by saying,
“Thankfully, the thinking changed. I am horrified that such a gesture to sway public opinion was ever considered.”
A spokesman from the Pentagon would neither confirm nor deny the reports. Read the full story from the Guardian here.
“We will build new ships to carry man forward into the universe, to gain a new foothold on the moon and to prepare for new journeys to the worlds beyond our own.” -George W. Bush
NASA takes us up close and personal with our beloved Moon in their recently released “Tour of the Moon” video seen below…
You may know the Moon best as a satellite you see in the night sky or the landing-place of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin in 1969. But the Moon is not just some gray rock or sterile desert, it is actually Earth’s closest companion.
Since 1969 the Moon has been a key point of interest in the space industry, but the Moon was not just a focus in the 60s and 70s. In fact, just in the last six months China made their first ever lunar landing.
How, you may ask, would the Moon bring significant value at all to these agencies? The answer is that the Moon actually serves as a very valuable laboratory environment and testing ground for these space agencies.
Scientists use the Moon as a stable location to do tests that require extremely controlled environmental variables (since it has very little air and virtually no atmosphere) and/or lower gravity.
Also, space agencies can practice launching and landing techniques in an environment with a much thinner atmosphere and lower gravity than that of Earth, which may prove essential for the progression of the space industry.
Check out this previous Higher Learning post, which contains a video from NASA that details NASA’s plans to put an asteroid into orbit around the moon for launching and landing testing.