Mission complete: NASA announces demise of Opportunity rover

Pablo Tucker
February 14, 2019

Opportunity was the fifth of eight NASA space vehicles that have successfully landed on Mars.

Indeed, Opportunity performed incredibly well for over a decade as it crawled across the Martian surface and conducted science on behalf of its handlers back on NASA. Today, NASA is officially saying goodbye to the craft that, for years and years, couldn't be stopped.

Since then, the JPL has tried over 1,000 times to re-establish communication, to no avail.

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.

"I can not 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. Spirit and Opportunity, on the other hand, chewed up miles and miles of red dirt.

Update, Feb. 13, 10:10 a.m. PT: Adds NASA's last attempt to contact Opportunity on Tuesday.

"Godspeed, Opportunity", tweeted Keri Bean, who had the "privilege" of sending the final message to the robot.

On July 7, 2003, NASA launched Opportunity.

Unlike NASA's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover still chugging along on Mars, Opportunity and Spirit were never created to endure such severe weather.

Artist's illustration of NASA's Opportunity rover, which landed on Mars in January 2004 with the aid of a parachute and airbags.

The programme's end was emotionally hard for many at the facility, from which rover operations are conducted.

On Tuesday, engineers sent a transmission in a last attempt to revive the rover, but heard nothing back, said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. Following its initial landing in 2004, the craft found evidence of past water on Mars, accumulating evidence of a rich, potentially habitable past on Mars.

The rovers' greatest gift, according to Squyres, was providing a geologic record at two distinct places where water once flowed on Mars, and describing the conditions there that may have supported possible ancient life.

InSight also shared a fond farewell to Opportunity on Twitter.

"It is, therefore, that I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete", Zurbuchen said during an online video presentation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

From the beginning, Opportunity exceeded expectations and set records. Zurbuchen thanked the hundreds of scientists and engineers for working for nearly two decades on the mission. Earlier in Opportunity's mission days, a heater on its robotic arm failed to turn off, draining the rover's energy in the process.

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

"The goal is to discover life on another world: that is what we're trying to achieve", said Jim Bridenstine, Administrator of NASA. "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".

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