Mars rover Opportunity pronounced dead after more than 1,000 attempts to re-establish communication
Photo Opportunity … The rover took a “selfie” in March, 2014. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University)
NASA has declared the Mars rover Opportunity dead after 15 years on the red planet, and more than eight months after its last communication with Earth.
- Opportunity found some of the best evidence that water once flowed on Mars
- It landed on Mars in 2004, along with identical twin Spirit, which was pronounced dead in 2011
- Opportunity was only designed to last 90 Martian days
Communication with Opportunity was lost on June 10 last year, when a planet-wide dust storm, one of the most intense in decades, hid its location.
NASA said it tried to reconnect more than 1,000 times before finally giving up the ghost, having made “every reasonable engineering effort” to recover the 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 said.
“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.”
Opportunity was easily the longest-lasting lander on Mars, despite being designed to last just 90 days, and also set a roaming record of 45 kilometres before coming to rest, somewhat fittingly, in Perseverance Valley.
Opportunity had an identical twin, Spirit, which ceased communication in 2011. (Supplied: NASA)
It had already lost its identical twin, Spirit, which was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased.
“For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’s ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes,” associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate Thomas Zurbuchen said.
“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 (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape.”
The future of Mars exploration
NASA’s InSight lander touched down last November, while the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater for more than six years.
NASA and the European Space Agency will both be launching rovers to Mars in July, 2020, with the aim of finding past microbial life.
Spirit and Oppy tweet: It’s a pleasure and honor to serve. With hope, our rover tracks on Mars have helped to blaze a trail that human explorers will one day walk.
Cornell University’s Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an “honourable way” for the mission to end.
“You could have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Opportunity,” Professor Squyres said.
The rover’s greatest gift, according to Professor 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.
Now it is up to Curiosity and the InSight lander to carry on the legacy, Mr Callas said, along with spacecraft in orbit around Mars.
“[Opportunity] has given us a larger world,” Dr Callas said.
“Mars is now part of our neighbourhood.”