NASA's Mars rover pronounced dead: 'Farewell, Opportunity, and well done'

NASA's Mars rover pronounced dead: 'Farewell, Opportunity, and well done'

Opportunity was easily the longest-lasting lander on Mars, despite being created to last just 90 days, and also set a roaming record of 45 kilometres before coming to rest, somewhat fittingly, in Perseverance Valley.

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

The programme has had an extraordinary record of success: 45.2km traversed, more than the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that United States astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Rover robots found signs of water in the first rocks they encountered on Mars, as rocks near the aircraft's landing site contained pearl-shaped rocks.

"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 [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory], where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape".

It's lights out for Opportunity, one of NASA's most successful missions of all time. Communications with Spirit were lost after it was caught in a sand trap.

For months, Callas and his colleagues hoped that Opportunity kept enough power in reserve to wake itself up and get back in contact with Earth. Opportunity lasted 15 years and logged 28 miles.

Today's briefing provided ample opportunity for team members to celebrate Opportunity's legacy. "Even though it's a machine and we're saying goodbye, it's still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that".

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Before the solar-powered duo touched down in January 2004, humanity had successfully dropped just four spacecraft on the Martian surface: the Soviet Union's stationary Mars 3 lander in 1971 (which ceased functioning just seconds after touchdown), NASA's similarly sessile Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers in 1976, and the USA space agency's Pathfinder mission in 1997.

NASA has vowed to send people to Mars by 2030, but experts say it could take at least 25 years from now before humans could survive on the planet. NASA's Insight Mars Lander reached the surface of the Red Planet in November 2018, ending a journey that lasted six months and more than 300 million miles. After that, it headed to Endurance crater where it drove down the side and studied the strata of Mars. "If life ever did come to be on Mars, there ought to be evidence of it there", said Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA's Planetary Science Division. There are still several orbiters around the planet including MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

"We listened every single day with the Deep Space Network, and we sent over a thousand recovery commands, trying to exercise every possibility of getting a signal from the rover", said John Callas, the project manager at JPL.

Opportunity was able to visit Victoria and spend two years driving around it and inside it before moving on to Endeavour Crater and ending in Perseverance Valley.

Bridenstine liked that idea: "Bring 'em all back", he joked.

"We built them for Mars".

In addition to its unprecedented lifespan, Opportunity provided the world with valuable geological information about Mars. "That's their home. That's where I would like them to stay", Squyres said.

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