NASA rover finally bites the dust on Mars after 15 years

Posted February 15, 2019

NASA declared at a press conference today that its Opportunity rover is officially no longer functional, marking the end of an era while celebrating the wildly successful Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission.

The Opportunity mission cost more than $1 billion, with about 300 JPL staff members dedicated to the project soon after it landed, John Callas, project manager for Mars Exploration Rovers, said by phone.

Communication with Opportunity was lost on June 10 past year, when a planet-wide dust storm, one of the most intense in decades, hid its location.

The robot has been missing since the U.S. space agency lost contact during a dust storm in June a year ago and was declared officially dead on Wednesday, ending one of the most fruitful missions in the history of space exploration.

"Over the last eight months, NASA has sent over 835 commands to Opportunity to try to get it to wake up - they got no response", said Jim Greenhouse, Space Science Director at the New Mexico Museum of Natural History and Science.

Remarkably agile until communication ended last June, Opportunity roamed a record 45 kilometres around Mars.

Opportunity and Spirit were created to last at least 90 days on Mars, but scientists marveled that both rovers lasted years longer than expected.

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

Opportunity started out in Eagle crater where it discovered hematite "blueberries", the first strong evidence for water on ancient Mars. Nonetheless, both vehicles exceeded NASA's expectations - especially Opportunity.

The Mars Exploration Rover team made its final, unsuccessful attempt to reach the Opportunity rover last night.

This image sent by NASA's Opportunity rover on January 7, 2015 shows a view from atop a Martian hill. Once the storm passed, NASA was unable to wake the rover up.

The golf cart-size Opportunity outlived its twin, the Spirit rover, by several years. 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.

"[Opportunity] has given us a larger world", Dr Callas said.

Given the silence from space, "it is therefore that I'm standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete", Zurbruchen told a packed auditorium.

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Opportunity was one of two slow-moving rovers that landed on the Red Planet in 2004. These features form in water, a definitive sign to NASA that liquid water had been on the surface of Mars.

Opportunity was exploring Mars' Perseverance Valley, fittingly, when the fiercest dust storm in decades hit and contact was lost.

Opportunity was originally designed for a 90-day mission but survived for almost 15 years.

Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars so far, all belonging to NASA.

NASA's InSight lander remains on Mars after touching down on November 26.

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.

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