Technology & Science

Spirit rover sets Martian driving record

Spirit rolls 21 metres across surface of the Red Planet, shattering a one-day distance record set by NASA's tiny Sojourner rover in 1997.

The Spirit rover broke a one-day distance record for Mars Tuesday, rolling 21 metres across the planet's surface.

called La Cadie. The The feat is more than triple the record set by NASA's tiny Sojourner rover in 1997, according to mission manager Jim Erickson.

Spirit drove "blind" about half the distance, following a planned route to a stopping point on the rocky surface of Gusev Crater.

For the second half of the trip, it drove to another spot, turned by itself and rolled onward before stopping.

"The basic goal was to drive as far as they could and see how things went in the time that they had," Erickson told reporters. Spirit passed its driving test.

The six-wheeled rover can use its cameras to look ahead, map the terrain and decide on the safest route to its next target without receiving commands from scientists on Earth.

The rover maps the terrain into green, yellow and red areas; the first two are safe for driving while red must be avoided.

Spirit is moving towards a small rock called White Boat and will then head to Bonneville Crater, about 240 metres from its lander.

Halfway around the Red Planet, Spirit's twin, Opportunity also went for a ride.

Opportunity continued to "scoot and shoot" along an outcrop, taking detailed pictures of the finely layered rocks as it goes.

Opportunity slipped during half of its trip. NASA thinks loose soil at the Meridiani Planum landing site is to blame for the poorer traction.