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NASA's aging but durable Mars rover Opportunity will make what could be a trip of no return into a deep impact crater as it tries to peer further back than ever into the Red Planet's geologic history.

The descent into Victoria Crater received the go-ahead because the potential scientific returns are worth the risk that the solar-powered, six-wheel rover might not be able to climb out, NASA officials and scientists said Thursday.

The vehicle has been roaming Mars for nearly 3.5 Earth years. Scientists and engineers want to send it in while it still appears healthy.

"This crater, Victoria, is a window back into the ancient environment of Mars," said Alan Stern, the NASA associate administrator who authorized the move.

"Entering this crater does come with some unknowns," Stern added. "We have analyzed the entry point but we can't be certain about the terrains and the footing down in the crater until we go there. We can't guarantee, although we think we are likely to come back out of the crater."

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