NASA gave it one last shot on Tuesday night. They sent one final signal to their well-loved Opportunity Rover (Oppy) to see if they’d get an answer. No answer came. So, after 15 years of roving, they declared Oppy dead. A very unexpected era has ended on Mars.
Opportunity had been silent since a planet-wide dust storm engulfed Mars last June. That storm is thought to have coated Oppy’s solar panels with a layer of dust that kept the rover from charging itself. Since then, the Opportunity team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) sent 835 commands to Opportunity. Their hope was that winds on the red planet’s surface would clear the way for communication. But, no response ever came.
To the robot who turned 90 days into 15 years of exploration:
You were, and are, the Opportunity of a lifetime.
Rest well, rover. Your mission is complete.
— Spirit and Oppy (@MarsRovers) February 13, 2019
Opportunity spent 5352 days on Mars. It was only intended to operate for 90 of those days but for 15 years Oppy marched on. It “roved 45.16 kilometers across the Red Planet, a distance unmatched by any rover on the Moon or Mars”, according to arstechnica.com. Most importantly, Opportunity accomplished its mission to reveal to us the secrets of Mars’ geology.
Opportunity is responsible for the discovery that Mars once had ancient hydrothermal vents beneath lakes on its surface. Also because of Opportunity, scientists and engineers have developed new rovers that will carry on looking into Mars’ watery past. One of them, the Curiosity Rover (which is not reliant on solar energy to operate and therefore survived the months long dust storm) is still roving Mars’ surface.
Scientists from all over the world joined other lovers of space and science in taking to Twitter to pay tribute to Opportunity with the hashtags, #ThanksOppy and #GoodNightOppy. Here is one of our favorites, and a retrospective from NASA.
Spent the evening at JPL as the last ever commands were sent to the Opportunity rover on #Mars. 💔
— Dr. Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars) February 13, 2019
Drive along with the NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover and hear the voices of scientists and engineers behind the mission. Designed to run for 90 days, the exploration spanned more than 15 years from 2004 to 2019. Along the way, it discovered definitive proof of liquid water on ancient Mars and set the off-world driving record. For more information on the Mars Exploration Rovers and all of NASA’s Mars missions, visit mars.nasa.gov.
R.I.P. Oppy. Thank you.