NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity captured this view of its afternoon shadow stretching into Endeavour Crater on August 23, 2012 and made available on September 7, 2012. The rover was perched on the western rim of the crater, which is 14 miles (22 kilometers) in diameter. Opportunity's front hazard-avoidance camera took this image. The camera has a fisheye lens; the image has been processed to straighten the horizon. (Photo : Reuters)
NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers Spirit and Opportunity mission team will be awarded the Haley Space Flight Award, NASA announced on Friday in a press release.
The award, which will be received on September 12 at the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) Space 2012 Conference and Exposition, honors contributions by an astronaut or flight test personnel to the advancement of astronautics.
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According to NASA, past recipients include Alan B. Shepard, Thomas Stafford, Robert Crippen, John Glenn, Kathryn Sullivan and the crew of space shuttle mission STS-125.
Mars Exploration Rover Project Manager John Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. said, "On behalf of the many hundreds of scientists and engineers who designed, built and operate these rovers, it is a great honor to accept this most prestigious award."
"It is especially gratifying that this comes right as Opportunity is conducting one of the most significant campaigns in the eight-and-a-half years since landing. We still are going strong, with perhaps the most exciting exploration still ahead," Callas added.
NASA stated that Callas will be accepting the award, which praises the project's "new techniques in extraterrestrial robotic system operations to explore another world and extend mission lifetime," on behalf of the team.
The rover, which has spent eight years on the Red Planet, is "surveying a crater-rim outcrop of layered rock," the organization said. During the last two months, Opportunity has traveled about a third of a mile, NASA said. Its drive along the western rim of Endeavour Crater has brought it that much closer to analyzing a layered outcrop where clay minerals have been detected.
The previous rover, Spirit, spent six years on Mars, 24 times longer than its original three-month assignment. According to NASA, Opportunity is about 5,200 miles from NASA's newest rover, Curiosity, which was landed on Mars' Gale Crater a month ago.