NASA Extends Mars Rover Mission a Fifth Time

Opportunity Dives into Mars Crater
After a finishing an in-and-out maneuver to check wheel slippage near the rim of Victoria Crater, NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity re-entered the crater. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

NASA has extended the activities of the Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity for a fifth time.

The decision, announced today, could keep the robotic Martian explorers active through 2009.

"We are extremely happy to be able to further the exploration of Mars," said Alan Stern, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "The rovers are amazing machines, and they continue to produce amazing scientific results operating far beyond their design life."

The twin rovers landed on Mars in January 2004 on a mission originally planned to last only 90 days. That was 45 months, or nearly four years, ago. Both robots recently survived a series of global dust storms that threatened to end the mission by blocking sunlight to their solar panels. In September, Opportunity began its descent into Victoria Crater in Mars Meridiani Planum region. Meanwhile, Spirit has climbed onto a volcanic plateau on the opposite side of Mars.

To date, Opportunity has driven 7.19 miles (11.6 kilometers) and has returned more than 94,000 images. Spirit has driven 4.51 miles (7.2 kilometers) and has returned more than 102,000 images.

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