After 15 years of exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover finally concludes a successful mission. It was the longest-lasting robot on another planet ever.
NASA declared its Opportunity Mars rover dead today (Feb. 13), more than eight months after the solar-powered robot went silent during a raging dust storm on the Red Planet — and a day after the final calls to wake Oppy up went unanswered.
“I declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it, the Mars Exploration Rover mission complete,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said today during an event at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
NASA made the announcement Wednesday during an emotional media briefing at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. The agency said it had ended its efforts to communicate with Opportunity after sending more than 1,000 radio signals on its way, including some just last night.
“I was there yesterday and I was there with the team as these commands went out into the deep sky, and I learned this morning that we had not heard back,” Thomas Zurbuchen told reporters. “Opportunity remains silent.”
Opportunity rover was exploring Mars’ Perseverance Valley, fittingly, when the fiercest dust storm in decades hit and contact was lost. The storm was so intense that it darkened the sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover’s solar panels.
The interesting fact is that the engineers designed the rover to operate just three months! But Opportunity kept going and going until scientists pronounced it dead on Wednesday, 15 years after it landed on the red planet. It roved a staggering 45.16 kilometers across the red planet.
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Opportunity snapped stunning pictures of a strange landscape. It also revealed surprising glimpses into the distant past of Mars for over 14 years. It provided scientists a close-up view of Mars that they had never seen. They saw finely layered rocks that preserved ripples of flowing water several billion years ago, a prerequisite for life.
The golf-cart-size rover and its twin, Spirit, brought Mars down to Earth, in the minds of scientists and enthusiasts.
Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars so far, all belonging to NASA.
However, Before Spirit and Opportunity, NASA sent the Pathfinder lander and Sojourner rover to Mars. They conducted chemical and atmospheric experiments on the Red Planet. Pathfinder and Sojourner landed on Mars in July 1997, and the rover spent 83 days exploring the Martian surface.
Only two remain working: a larger, more capable rover, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012 and the recently arrived InSight, which just this week placed a heat-sensing, self-hammering probe on the dusty red surface to burrow deep into the planet like a mole.
Three more landers — from the U.S., China, and Europe — are due to launch next year.
Thumbnail image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech