Friday, 22 February, 2019

Mission Complete: 12 Years On, NASA Declares Mars Rover Officially Dead

Opportunity NASA's InSight lander to place heat flow probe on Mars
Doris Mccormick | 14 February, 2019, 06:51

"I feel great about this", he said, stressing that both Spirit and Opportunity died honorable deaths after doing far more than was expected of them.

"We are doing everything in our power to communicate with Opportunity, but as time goes on, the probability of a successful contact with the rover continues to diminish". Many months' worth of attempts to contact the craft failed. The agency confirmed today that the mission has officially ended. Dust storms are common on Mars, but a global event like the one we saw in 2018 only happens every few years. This wasn't the first time a dust storm had made Oppy go silent.

NASA researchers held out, attempting to ping the rover hundreds of times and listening over the radio waves hoping to hear its signal once again.

This map shows the southward path driven by Opportunity from late December 2014 until it passed marathon distance on March 24, 2015, during the 3,968th Martian day, or sol, of the rover's work on Mars. That's when the Sojourner craft arrived at Mars, roving for 83 Martian days on what was meant to be a seven-day test mission.

"You were, and are, the Opportunity of a lifetime", NASA tweeted Wednesday morning.

Opportunity was first launched alongside its twin robot Spirit in 2003. And it's the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission.

But even with its sibling gone, Opportunity pressed on. "We were running around saying, "Water on Mars!"

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Opportunity was only supposed to stay on Mars for 90 days, but has now lasted an astounding 14 years. He also described the quality of Opportunity's batteries and the seasonal reliability of the Martian winds to clean its solar panels as part of the reasons it lasted as long as it did.

The vehicle ceased responding after being caught up in a massive Martian dust storm a year ago.

The rover sent back images of former water reserves, providing signs that ancient life could have once existed on Mars.

Deputy project scientist Abigail Freeman was inspired to join the program after watching Opportunity land on Mars when she was 16 and still at school. Three of those are in orbit around the planet. On the surface, there's Curiosity and the recently arrived Mars InSight, which will dig underground on Mars in search of seismic activity.

The heat flow probe is the final instrument to be deployed on Mars. These missions and the people working to keep them operating come with an important legacy of discovery, and each represents a milestone in space exploration.

Both rovers found plenty of evidence that Mars was relatively warm and wet long ago, with environments that could well have supported life as we know it. Spirit, for example, rolled through an ancient hydrothermal system, revealing that at least some parts of Mars also featured energy sources that ancient organisms could have exploited.

We have a tendency to get attached to the spacecraft we send out, not because we care so much about the hardware itself but because they represent large teams of hard-working individuals pushing human knowledge to places it's never been before.

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