Skip to Main Content
On January 24, 2004, the Mars Exploration Rover named Opportunity successfully landed in the region of Mars known as Meridiani Planum, a vast plain dotted with craters where orbiting spacecraft had detected the signatures of minerals believed to have formed in liquid water. The first pictures back from Opportunity revealed that the rover had landed in a crater roughly 20 meters in diameter - the only sizeable crater within hundreds of meters - which became known as Eagle Crater. And in the walls of this crater just meters away was the bedrock MER scientists had been hoping to find, which would ultimately prove that this region of Mars did indeed have a watery past. Opportunity explored Eagle Crater for almost two months, then drove more than 700 meters in one month to its next destination, the much larger Endurance Crater. After surveying the outside of Endurance Crater, Opportunity drove into the crater and meticulously studied it for six months. Then it went to examine the heat shield that had protected Opportunity during its descent through the Martian atmosphere. More than a year since landing, Opportunity is still going strong and is currently en route to Victoria Crater - more than six kilometers from Endurance Crater. Opportunity has driven more than four kilometers, examined more than eighty patches of rock and soil with instruments on the robotic arm, excavated four trenches for subsurface sampling, and sent back well over thirty thousand images of Mars - ranging from grand panoramas to up close microscopic views. This paper details the experience of driving Opportunity through this alien landscape from the point of view of the Rover Planners, the people who tell the rover where to drive and how to use its robotic arm.