The first marathon on Mars was finally completed Tuesday by NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover—and it only took about 11 years and two months.
“This is the first time any human enterprise has exceeded the distance of a marathon on the surface of another world,” John Callas, the rover’s project manager at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a celebratory statement. “A first time happens only once.”
Opportunity landed on the Red Planet on Jan. 25, 2004, with an “original three-month prime mission” but since then been driving around and stopping to perform scientific research. As of Tuesday, Opportunity is on the west rim of Endeavor Crater—nicknamed “Marathon Valley”—where it continues to research the planet’s ancient wet conditions.
Opportunity previously broke a record last year when it overtook the former Soviet Union’s Lunokhod 2 moon rover as the off-Earth rover that had traveled the most distance.
“This mission isn’t about setting distance records, of course; it’s about making scientific discoveries on Mars and inspiring future explorers to achieve even more,” said Steve Squyres, the rover’s principal investigator at Cornell University. “Still, running a marathon on Mars feels pretty cool.”
Opportunity and NASA’s Curiosity Mars Rover are the only operating rovers on Mars. NASA’s previous rover, Spirit Mars Rover, became stuck in soft soil in 2009 and ceased communication with scientists in 2010.