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NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter has snapped pictures of the Mars Rover Opportunity, poised on the edge of the Victoria Crater that scientists hope will shed new light on the environmental history of the Red Planet.

NASA says having a bird's eye view will help it to plot the rover's route through the crater.

"This is a tremendous example of how our Mars missions in orbit and on the surface are designed to reinforce each other and expand our ability to explore and discover," said Doug McCuistion, director of NASA's Mars Exploration Programme in Washington.

"You can only achieve this compelling level of exploration capability with the sustained exploration approach we are conducting at Mars through integrated orbiters and landers."

The combination of ground based observations and orbital data have long been used on the Red Planet. Indeed, images from the Mars Global Surveyor were used to select the Victoria Crater as a destination for the rover in the first place.

"The combination of the ground-level and aerial view is much more powerful than either alone," said Steve Squyres of Cornell University, principal investigator for Opportunity and its twin, Spirit.

"If you were a geologist driving up to the edge of a crater in your jeep, the first thing you would do would be to pick up the aerial photo you brought with you and use it to understand what you're seeing from ground level. That's exactly what we're doing here."

The team says data from the Rover will also be useful for interpreting orbital images. ®

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