During a media briefing held yesterday, NASA announced that it is bidding farewell to the Opportunity rover, as all attempted efforts to wake the sleeping rover since June 2018 were unsuccessful. Opportunity has recently marked 15 years on the Martian surface, and spent nearly as much time exploring it, providing a wealth of useful data which will help us understand more about Mars.
#ThanksOppy for being the little rover that could! A planned 90-day mission to explore Mars turned into 15 years of ground-breaking discoveries and record-breaking achievements. Here’s a look: https://t.co/e32XC64e3C
— NASA (@NASA) February 14, 2019
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Mars was struck by a severe dust storm in June 2018. Opportunity became covered with a lot of dust, which prevented it from receiving enough energy through its solar panels. NASA conducted more than a thousand commands to restore contact with the rover, but in the end they simply had to bid farewell to the Opportunity rover.
“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine was quoted on NASA’s news release about bidding farewell to the Opportunity rover. “And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”
The rover was originally designed to last only 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards. However, it exceeded everyone’s expectations and endured for 14 years on Mars, delivering valuable scientific information which serves as a strong foundation for NASA to return to Mars with new missions. It managed to travel 28 miles, until it reached its final spot in Perseverance Valley.
“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues – both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander – and in the clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape.”
NASA tried contacting Opportunity for the last time via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California. Unfortunately, they didn’t get a return signal which put the end to the mission.
“We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts,” said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL.
Opportunity was launched shortly after its twin rover Spirit and landed on the Medidiani Planum region of Mars in January 2004, arriving on the Red Planet seven months after its launch. However, its twin Spirit landed 20 days earlier, arriving in the Gusev Crater measuring 103 miles wide. While Spirit lasted a shorter time than Opportunity it still provided a great deal of scientific information for NASA, logging almost 5 miles before it became stuck and its mission ended.
“I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley,” said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. “The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her.”
NASA’s Twitter moments also shared images of Opportunity’s presence on Mars, among many photos that the golf-cart-sized rover sent back to Earth. Its last photo taken in the middle of the dust storm when the dust covered the sun looks cold and dreary. Despite NASA bidding farewell to the Opportunity rover, their legacy will remain preserved thanks to other rovers Curiosity and Mars InSight.