Published: Thu, February 14, 2019
Sci-tech | By April Francis

NASA declares Opportunity rover dead after 15 years on Mars

NASA declares Opportunity rover dead after 15 years on Mars

The craft, which arrived at the Red Planet in July 2004, has been out of communication since last summer.

Opportunity and Spirit were built to last 90 days, but Opportunity far exceeded that number, roving for almost 15 years.

The agency held a news conference to detail the results of recovery efforts since a dust storm encircled Mars previous year.

With Opportunity not having responded to a final attempt on Tuesday to wake-up commands from the command center in California, "it is therefore that I'm standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, said in a Wednesday news conference at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

This map shows the southward path driven by Opportunity from late December 2014 until it passed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, during the 3,968th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars. But a subsequent "cleaning" event-what NASA calls it when weather conditions clear, exposing the solar panels and allowing the craft to recharge-never happened.

"It's sad", she says. "Science is an emotional affair".

"This is a hard day", said project manager John Callas. Its twin, Spirit, worked on the red planet for nearly six years.

Opportunity was expected to travel 1,100 yards over 90 days on Mars.

It landed in Eagle Crater, moved on to Endurance Crater and planned to visit Victoria Crater. It teetered close to the sand dunes, but didn't dare enter them for fear of getting stuck. The engineers put it in reverse and "gunned it" to free the rover. In fact, Opportunity weathered a major dust storm in 2006 with no problem.

The two rovers' greatest achievement was finding firm proof that water that could have sustained microbial life had once flowed on the Martian surface.

Cornell University's Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an "honorable way" for the mission to end. The rover is expected to land on Mars Feb. 18, 2021. Following its initial landing in 2004, the craft found evidence of past water on Mars, accumulating evidence of a rich, potentially habitable past on Mars. Opportunity lasted 15 years and logged 28 miles.

Opportunity was exploring Mars' Perseverance Valley, fittingly, when the fiercest dust storm in decades hit and contact was lost. It had a heater that was draining energy, and the clock was scrambled by loss of power, so it didn't know when to sleep. Unfortunately, a global dust storm that started in June 2018 was too much for the aging rover, which lost power early in the storm.

Stay tuned for more on the life, times and (likely) end of Opportunity later today.

Farewell, Opportunity. We'll miss you.

On Wednesday, Opportunity's team bid her farewell while looking to the foundations the mission laid.

From the beginning, Opportunity exceeded expectations and set records. "Opportunity's just been a workhorse.it's really a testament, I think, to how well the mission was designed and how careful the team was in operating the vehicle". It's the accomplished exploration and phenomenal discoveries.

"For the public the big change was that Mars became a dynamic place, and it was a place that you could explore every day", Emily Lakdawalla, an expert on space exploration and senior editor at The Planetary Society.

Mission team members have been trying to rouse the rover since June and listening for any possible signals.

"Farewell, Opportunity, and well done".

The rovers used a variety of instruments in this quest, including three different spectrometers, a panoramic camera and the high-resolution Microscopic Imager, which delivered magnifying-glass-like views of Red Planet rock and dirt.

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