NASA Says Goodbye to Its Mars Opportunity Rover

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars

NASA also operates two spacecraft on the surface of the red planet: the nuclear-powered Mars Curiosity rover, now in its seventh year of operation, and the stationary InSight lander, which touched down late last year.

It landed on Mars' Meridiani Planum plain near its equator on January 25, 2004. Its twin, Spirit, had arrived just three weeks earlier.

The rover reached Mars in 2004, but NASA lost contact with the vehicle past year following an epic dust storm that enveloped the red planet and prevented sunlight from reaching its surface.

As the thick dust whipped up and around the rover - and across the entirety of Mars - the sunlight that powers it was blocked and its batteries ran out.

The final commands were sent Tuesday night.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will be present, as well as the heads of NASA's planetary science and of Opportunity's rover program. Shortly afterwards, a planet-wide dust storm enveloped Perseverance Valley, stranding the rover. JPL Director Mike Watkins explained that they had rigged a system in which they turned the rover off at night to save energy, which he likened to flipping the breaker on your house off at night to turn the light out, and back on in the morning before the ice cream melts.

Nasa was originally due to reveal its finding at a press conference today but made its sad announcement yesterday after Opportunity failed to spring back to life.

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our fearless astronauts walk on the surface of Mars", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, according to an announcement on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's website.

Though hard for those who worked on Opportunity - some for all 15 years or longer - the mission was declared a huge success.

John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, put the epic journey down to a "phenomenal" effort, adding: "We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power". "And they see us on TV jumping up and down like we just won the Super Bowl". It also started the clock on a 45-day period that NASA believed would be the best window of time for getting a response from the rover. If this can't be done, then the rover will most likely stop working. It would be a monumental challenge to repurpose its onboard instruments to even clear dust off of Opportunity's solar panels.

Following a Twitter campaign using the hashtag #SaveOppy, NASA announced on October 29, 2018, that it would continue its active listening phase. Flight controllers sent more than 1,000 recovery commands to Opportunity - but got nothing in return. To navigate the Martian terrain, these rovers require constant guidance from Earth Combined with the long delay between message transmission and receipt, even a trek of a few feet can take days.

The pair have had their share of incidents. Communications with Spirit were lost after it was caught in a sand trap. Zurbuchen thanked the hundreds of scientists and engineers for working for nearly two decades on the mission.

Opportunity rover led a grand life on the Red Planet.

Its goal was to search for clues about the history of water on Mars.

Of 43 missions launched toward Mars, only 18 have made it intact, a success rate of around 40 percent.

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