When NASA made a final attempt to contact the rover on Tuesday night, it never responded
After nearly a decade and a half of adventure, the Opportunity’s mission on the red planet has come to an end.
On Tuesday night, NASA made a final effort to communicate with the Opportunity rover, which had gone silent since June 2018 when a powerful storm hit Mars and likely left the machine’s solar panels covered in dust. When their attempts once again failed to generate a signal, the agency was compelled to make the heartbreaking the announcement that the robot — which had traveled miles through the Martian landscape and sent back awe-inspiring pictures during its 15-year mission — was officially dead.
“You were, and are, the Opportunity of a lifetime,” NASA tweeted Wednesday morning. “Rest well, rover. Your mission is complete.”
Opportunity, along with its sister robot, Spirit, landed on Mars in 2004, for a mission that was initially expected to last 90 Martian days. But Opportunity far exceeded its expected lifespan and durability and traversed more than 28 miles along the planet when scientists only intended for it to travel just over a thousand yards.
Together with Spirit, the rover helped NASA better understand our celestial neighbor. In one of the most significant discoveries of the last decade, Opportunity found evidence in 2014 that Mars was once the home to water that could have supported life.
After Spirit’s mission ended in 2011, Opportunity continued to explore the Mars’ surface and sent back majestic pictures that were often shared to the Twitter page dedicated to the rovers, which may have already helped to inspire the next generation of space explorers who may one day visit the planet.
“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,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, according to an announcement on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s website.
“And when that day arrives,” Bridenstine continued, “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, the associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said the agency is planning to send another rover to the red planet in 2020.
“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,” Zurbuchen said. “Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues.”
NASA’s other rover, Curiosity, is now the lone functioning rover on the 4,200-mile wide planet. With billionaire’s like Elon Musk and Richard Branson leading the way for future space exploration, it may not be long until someone is able to pay Opportunity a visit where it now rests in a section of the planet called “Perseverance Valley.”
“I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley,” JPL director Michael Watkins said on the laboratory’s website. “The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her.”