March 23, 2019

NASA’s Opportunity Rover Made Mars Part of Earth

“On Tuesday night, engineers at the Space Flight Operations Facility of Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, sent their final commands to the rover Opportunity on Mars. With no signal received in reply from the dormant rover, NASA formally announced the end of the mission today.

“I declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it, the Mars Exploration Rover mission as complete,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA. “I have to tell you, this is an emotional time.”

The rover lost contact with Earth on June 10, 2018. A Mars-wide dust storm darkened the otherwise apricot skies of the fourth planet from the sun, starving the rover’s solar panels of needed sunlight. The agency maintained a vigil in hope that once the storm subsided, the rover might reawaken. During the intervening months, NASA blasted a fusillade of commands at the rover—835 in all—in case some signal might be received and operations resumed. After eight months of silence, the agency made the decision to pronounce the time of death and bid the robot farewell.

Opportunity is one-half of a two-rover mission called Mars Exploration Rovers (MER). The rovers landed separately on Mars in January 2004. Opportunity landed in Meridiani Planum near the Martian equator. Spirit, its twin, landed halfway around the planet, at the crater Gusev. The rovers primary missions were to last 90 Mars days, or sols (about 24 hours and 40 minutes). Two thousand sols later, Spirit was still sending science back to Earth, losing contact at last in 2010. Opportunity survived on Mars for over 15 years.”

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