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What a View! Opportunity Rover Nears 11 Years on Mars

Image: Mars panorama
This colorized photo mosaic shows the Opportunity rover's view from the summit of Cape Tribulation at Endeavour Crater on Mars. The rover's next destination, known as Marathon Valley, is at right. Marco Di Lorenzo / Ken Kremer / KenKremer.com / NASA / JPL-Caltech

NASA's Opportunity rover has captured a gorgeous view of the Martian landscape from a perch high on a crater rim.

The Opportunity rover took the photo on Jan. 6 from atop Cape Tribulation on the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The summit sits about 440 feet (135 meters) above the surrounding plains — higher than any other point Opportunity has reached since arriving at Endeavour's rim in August 2011, NASA said.

"The view is one of the grandest in Opportunity's Martian career of nearly 11 years and more than 25.8 miles (41.6 kilometers)" of driving," NASA officials said in a statement. [Latest Mars Rover Photos from Opportunity and Spirit]

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Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, touched down within weeks of each other in January 2004, on three-month missions to search for signs of past water activity on Mars. Both rovers found plenty of such evidence, then kept rolling along well after their warranties expired.

Spirit stopped communicating with Earth in March 2010. Opportunity continues to explore the Red Planet, but the six-wheeled robot is showing signs of old age.

The rover recently began having problems with its flash memory, the type that can store information even when the power is off. Opportunity currently cannot store data and images overnight, when it powers down, so the rover's handlers have been beaming every day's data home before Opportunity tucks in for the night. The mission team is testing out some new software that could get the flash memory working again.

Opportunity's handlers plan to send the rover southward from its current position, to a site where Mars orbiters have spotted signs that liquid water existed in the area long ago. The targeted spot is called Marathon Valley, because Opportunity will have logged the equivalent of a marathon (26.2 miles, or 42.2 kilometers) on the Red Planet by the time it gets there, NASA officials said.

Opportunity has driven farther on the surface of another world than any other vehicle. Last year, it broke the previous record of 24.2 miles (39 kilometers), set by the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 moon rover in 1973.

— Mike Wall, Space.com

This is a condensed version of a report from Space.com. Read the full report. Follow Mike Wall on Twitter and Google+. Follow Space.com on Twitter, Facebook or Google+.