Goodbye to NASA’s Mars rover Opportunity. NASA’s robotic geologist fitted with an array of tools to search for evidence of water, ended its mission Feb. 13 – three weeks after its 15th anniversary.
Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. Its twin rover, Spirit, landed 20 days earlier in the 103-mile-wide (166-kilometer-wide) Gusev Crater on the other side of Mars. Spirit logged almost 5 miles (8 kilometers) before its mission wrapped up in May 2011.
The Mars rover’s team made its last attempt to contact Opportunity on Tuesday night, and it went unanswered. The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. After more than a thousand commands to restore contact, engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) made their last attempt to revive Opportunity Tuesday, to no avail.
NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, “It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars. And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”
Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate said, “For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’ ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes. 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.”
John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL said, “The final transmission, sent via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California, ended a multifaceted, eight-month recovery strategy in an attempt to compel the rover to communicate.”
“We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts.”
More Opportunity Achievements
- Set a one-day Mars driving record on March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
- Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
- Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
- Found hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
- Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.