Thursday, 18 July, 2019

NASA Says Goodbye to Opportunity Rover After Months of Silence

Opportunity NASA's InSight lander to place heat flow probe on Mars
Sandra Phillips | 14 February, 2019, 09:57

NASA officials issued a final series of recovering commands on Tuesday, on top of 1,000 which have already been sent.

Opportunity was the second of the twin Mars Exploration Rovers to land on Mars, arriving in January 2004 about three weeks after Spirit landed.

Launched on May 5, InSight marks NASA's first landing on Mars since the Curiosity rover in 2012 and the first dedicated to studying the deep interior of the red planet.

But Opportunity had shown other signs of age.

For many scientists and engineers on the Opportunity team, their careers and, for some, their lives have been defined by the extraordinary endurance of Opportunity, who was only expected to carry out a 90-day mission.

Opportunity set records on the Red Planet. Steve Squyres, a professor at Cornell University in the USA studying the history of water on the Red Planet, called Mars a "dry, desolate world".

The rover, along with its partner, Spirit, landed on Mars in 2004 as part of the Mars Exploration Rover mission.

The rovers used a variety of instruments in this quest, including three different spectrometers, a panoramic camera and the high-resolution Microscopic Imager, which delivered magnifying-glass-like views of Red Planet rock and dirt. "That's their home. That's where I would like them to stay", he said. "You can't move. That's not the way geology works".

"And so, it comes time to say goodbye", he said.

Spirit ended its mission in 2010 after becoming stuck in soft soil. Opportunity examined the first extraterrestrial meteorite and traveled 28 miles across the Meridiani Planum, which the mission crew affectionately called a "marathon", setting a new record for longest distance of any off-Earth terrain vehicle.

Opportunity exemplified this mobility, travelling over 45km across the Martian surface.

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The news follows months of unsuccessful attempts to make contact with the rover after it lost power in a global dust storm last summer.

"From the get-go, Opportunity delivered on our search for evidence regarding water", said Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the rovers' science payload at Cornell University.

NASA made its last planned attempts to communicate with Opportunity late on Tuesday, but did not receive any response back.

The storm eventually enshrouded all of Mars.

When the dust cloud cleared, there was no word from Opportunity.

Then last June, a thick dust storm clouded the martian atmosphere, sharply reducing the sunlight reaching the rover's solar panels. "But what I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth".

As Opportunity explored craters on Mars, it gathered evidence to demonstrate the planet in the ancient past was wet and warm enough to possibly sustain life, NASA said.

"When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone's expectations", Callas said. And the mission has probably provided some life-changing inspiration to a fair few young folks along the way as well.

"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.

"We built them for Mars".

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