NASA Mars rover prepares for upcoming winter

LOS ANGELES (AP) ? NASA’s lone surviving Mars rover has been busy studying its surroundings since rolling up to its latest crater destination over the summer. Now the solar-powered, six-wheel Opportunity is in search of a place to hunker down for the winter.

The robot geologist has been scouting out sites along the crater rim that not only have interesting rocks to examine but also ample sunshine. It spent Thanksgiving at a place scientists dubbed “Turkey Haven” before driving to another spot to take a closer look and decide where to spend the upcoming winter.

It’s a bittersweet juncture for Opportunity, which along with its twin, Spirit, landed on opposite sides of the red planet in January 2004. Both survived beyond their original three-month mission and found geologic evidence that Mars was warmer and wetter than it is today.

Spirit suddenly stopped communicating with Earth last year shortly after it became stuck in fluffy sand. NASA diligently listened for a sign from Spirit and finally gave up this past spring.

Despite Spirit’s demise, Opportunity continued to trek across the Martian plains and arrived at the western rim of Endeavour Crater in August. The rover has wowed scientists with discoveries at the site, which includes rocks and soil unlike any it has encountered during its years roaming the planet.

With a little over 21 miles on its odometer, Opportunity shows no signs of slowing down and will soon get some company. NASA launched its latest spacecraft to Mars last month, a 1-ton mega-rover named Curiosity, set to land next summer.

The $2.5 billion mission will study a mountain inside a crater to determine whether the environment was conducive for microbial life.



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