Published: Thu, February 14, 2019
Science | By Cecil Little

NASA's Mars Opportunity rover declared dead

NASA's Mars Opportunity rover declared dead

The rover ends its mission with several unmatched feats.

Global dust storms are not unusual on Mars, occurring every few years.

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

"It is therefore that I'm standing here, with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude, that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it, the Mars Exploration Rover mission as complete". Dust has blocked out sunlight, and even the expected winds from November through January haven't helped clear Opportunity's sensors and panels. By February 6, NASA reported that more than 835 recovery commands had been sent to the rover over a span of frequencies, including those outside its normal communications range.

InSight and the next Mars rover mission, scheduled for 2020, are both seen as precursors for eventual human exploration of Mars, an objective that NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine has said might be achieved as early as the mid-2030s.

"It's sad", she says.

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"Science is an emotional affair, it's a team sport, and that's what we're celebrating today", he said.

Though hard for those who worked on Opportunity - some for all 15 years or longer - the mission was declared a huge success. And so some argued that Opportunity - affectionately known as "Oppy" by some - wasn't being given the same chance. "But at the same time, we've got to remember this has been 15 years of incredible adventure".

But a giant dust storm previous year blocked sunlight from Mars, stopping Opportunity's solar-powered batteries from being able to recharge.

Opportunity found hematite at its landing site: little round things all over the ground that looked like blueberries. "Water on Mars!' It was really sulfuric acid on Mars, right?" he said, half-jokingly.

Opportunity and Spirit were created to last at least 90 days on Mars, but scientists marveled that both rovers lasted years longer than expected. It traveled 28 miles and captured 217,594 raw images.

It landed in Eagle Crater, moved on to Endurance Crater and planned to visit Victoria Crater.

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Opportunity landed on an enormous plain, and spent half its life there, traversing flat expanses and once getting stuck in a sand dune for several weeks. Engineers estimated the rover's maximum range at 1,100 yards.

Perseverance Valley is a fitting final resting spot for the spacecraft, which was originally expected to conduct science for just 90 days.

During the second part of its life on Mars, Opportunity climbed to the edge of the crater Endeavour, taking spectacular panoramic images - and discovering veins of gypsum, additional proof that water once flowed among the Martian rocks.

The lead scientist on the Opportunity project, Cornell University's Steve Squyres, believes the rover has had "an honourable death".

On July 7, 2003, NASA launched Opportunity. But they shared a main mission goal: to hunt for signs of long-ago liquid-water activity, thereby helping scientists better understand Mars' evolution and past potential to host life. By consistently actively pinging the rover during both preplanned recovery times and other random intervals, engineers had hoped to catch Opportunity during an awake period.

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