16Feb2019

Mars Opportunity Rover Dead After 15 Years Service

Well, it’s official, NASA’s Opportunity Rover is gone. That amazing rover that helped us discover evidence of past water on the surface of Mars hasn’t responded to any of NASA’s attempts to connect.

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One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission is at an end after almost 15 years exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA’s return to the Red Planet.

The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail. The solar-powered rover’s final communication was received June 10.

“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,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “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.”

Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars — Perseverance Valley.

Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit logged almost 5 miles (8 kilometers) before its mission wrapped up in May 2011.

The last time we heard from Opportunity was June, 2018, when a powerful global dust storm was bearing down on the rover, darkening the skies above its solar panels, and lowering the temperatures it needed to operate. Opportunity had weathered dust storms like this before, but its aging power system just couldn’t keep up with the strength and severity of the dust storm.

And so, it’s time to say goodbye, and thanks.  Both of which went way way beyond the original 90 Martian day mission length, telling us more about the surface and history of Mars than we ever could have hoped for.

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