Opportunity Rover Mission Complete

Muriel Hammond
February 15, 2019

Opportunity, a remarkably durable NASA rover created to roll along the surface of Mars for three months, has stopped communicating with Earth after 15 years of service, officials said on Wednesday, ending a mission that astounded the US space agency. Other landers found only patchy evidence of the past life of Mars, but Opportunity unlocked ancient lake beds and truly uncanny evidence for a wet and warm past on the Red Planet.

The six-wheeled robot last contacted Earth in June previous year, but after a global dust storm hit, it went quiet. By its 15th year on Mars, the Opportunity rover had overcome rugged terrain littered with rocks and boulders, even climbing up a gravel-strewn slope as steep as 32-degrees, thereby setting an off-world record. Among its many accomplishments, Opportunity discovered several types of hydrated minerals and clays that point to flowing water in Mars's past, explored more than 100 craters, and conducted long-term studies of the Martian environment.

NASA launched the Opportunity rover as part of its Mars Exploration Rover program in 2004.

Project scientist Matthew Golombek said these rover missions are meant to help answer an "almost theological" question: Does life form wherever conditions are just right, or "are we really, really lucky?" "Now she can rest, beneath a thin layer of dust, knowing she did humanity proud", Tanya Harrison, director of research for the Space Technology and Science Initiative at Arizona State University and science team collaborator on Opportunity, told Astronomy.

Its identical twin, Spirit, was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased.

The JPL team tried using NASA's Deep Space Network and radio telescopes on Earth to communicate with Opportunity, but so far, contact has been unsuccessful.

Created to last just 90 Martian days and travel 3,300 feet, Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity.

The US space agency NASA declared the mission of its Opportunity rover on Mars to be complete Wednesday after it failed to answer more than 1,000 wake-up commands. Zurbuchen was present Tuesday night during a final planned attempt to reach the rover Tuesday evening, asking the rover to respond. "We would all love it if our cellphone batteries lasted this long", Callas said.

The Opportunity rover's legacy is firmly in place as the Mars InSight lander, which touched down on Mars last fall, is now beginning its research as the Curiosity rover continues to explore Mars' Gale Crater.

Pathfinder included a little rover called Sojourner, but that microwave-oven-size robot traveled a total of just 330 feet (100 meters) during its pioneering operational life.

NASA followed Sojourner up in 2003 with two crafts-Spirit and Opportunity.

Created to last only three months, and travel only 1000 metres, Opportunity provided scientists a close-up view of Mars that they had never seen.

This Jan. 4, 2018 photo made available by NASA shows a view from the front Hazard Avoidance Camera of the Opportunity rover on the inboard slope of the western rim of Endeavour Crater on the planet Mars.

"Our beloved Opportunity remained silent", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said in today's press conference.

Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars so far, all belonging to NASA. The Mars Exploration Rovers, he added, "energized the public about the spirit of robotic Mars exploration".

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