NASA Mars rover Opportunity finally bites the dust after 15 years


NASA will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. ET today to discuss the results of recovery efforts since a dust storm encircled Mars past year. Earlier in Opportunity's mission days, a heater on its robotic arm failed to turn off, draining the rover's energy in the process. The last attempt was made on Tuesday night.

NASA'S longest-running rover on Mars, Opportunity, has been pronounced dead, 15 years after it landed on the red planet.

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.

So while today may be an official goodbye to Opportunity, it lives on in its legacy that informs our exploration of Mars every day.

Opportunity landed on an vast plain, and spent half its life there, traversing flat expanses and once getting stuck in a sand dune for several weeks.

Opportunity was one of two slow-moving rovers that landed on the Red Planet in 2004.

Opportunity found hematite at its landing site: little round things all over the ground that looked like blueberries. It was there, using geological instruments, that it confirmed that liquid water was once present on Mars.

Its goal was to search for clues about the history of water on Mars.

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Later evidence gathered at Endeavour Crater indicated that the water at that location in ancient times might have been drinkable. It was supposed to last for 90 here we are 15 years later.

"It's just like a loved one who's gone missing, and you keep holding out hope that they will show up and that they're healthy", he said. Callas surmised that the dust storm which ended the rover's mission may have disrupted its sleep cycle, reinstating the power draining issue and preventing recovery. They were surprised to find out that Martian winds periodically swept the panels clean.

Rather than viewing the dust storm as bad luck, Callas considers it "good luck that we skirted so many possible storms' over the years".

Opportunity's odometer logged 28.06 miles of travel, which set the record for the longest trek on a world beyond Earth. Spirit got stuck in a sand trap and went dark in 2009, still far beyond its intended expiration date. Once the storm had passed, engineers were hopeful that the sun would wake Opportunity up again. "Science is a team sport, and that's what we're celebrating today". JPL's director, Michael Watkins, said Opportunity and Spirit created a "new paradigm for solar system exploration".

Of 43 missions launched toward Mars, only 18 have made it intact, a success rate of around 40 percent.

NASA has vowed to send people to Mars by the 2030s, but industry experts say it could take longer - at least 25 years from now - before humans could survive on the Red Planet.

And NASA's InSight spacecraft, the first robotic lander created to study the deep interior of a distant world, touched down safely on the surface of Mars in November with instruments to detect planetary seismic rumblings. This storm in particular was one of the thickest NASA has ever seen.

The rover has not been heard from since June a year ago when the storm blanketed the Red Planet, blocking sunlight and causing solar-powered Oppy to go into hibernation. That valley will be Opportunity's eternal resting place.