Updated: Mar 7, 2019
The Mars rover goes silent after a 15 year mission.
Tate Coan, Online Editor
NASA declared the Mars rover, Opportunity, dead during a press conference Feb. 13 at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
The robot was caught in a martian dust storm last summer and despite months of trying, scientists have not been able to recover her. The last contact NASA had with Opportunity was back in June before the historic tempest is said to have coated the rover’s solar panels in dust. According to NASA, the recovery efforts were concluded Feb. 12 after sending over 800 commands.
Opportunity was launched from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida July 7, 2003; it landed about 6 months later in Jan. 2004 in what is known as the Meridiani Planum region of the red planet. She was only set to explore the planet for 90 days, but surpassed her expiration date by more than 14 years.
“We said we’re gonna operate this vehicle until the day where we can’t,” expressed Deputy Project Scientist Abigail Fraeman in a video posted by NASA. “That’s exactly what we did and I’m really proud.”
Opportunity was able to contribute many things to the science community during her 15 year journey. Aside from collecting over 217,000 images of Mars, she also found possible evidence of ancient waters.
NASA’s primary objective for Opportunity was, “to seek out historical evidence of the Red Planet's climate and water at sites where conditions may once have been favorable for life.” Scientists noted that because water is needed for life, the planet may have been habitable at some point in its history. Opportunity helped NASA accomplish exactly what they set out to.
According to Valley College astronomy professor David Falk, the mission of the martian explorer was a “tremendous success ... [NASA] got their money’s worth. It was only supposed to last for 90 days and it ended up lasting for 15 years.”
Opportunity experienced a few hard-times while working on Mars. In 2005. she got stuck in a Martian sand ripple for almost five weeks, a problem also created by blown dust. Engineers and mission managers cheered with joy when she finally escaped the captivity of the sand.
"When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone's expectations," said John L. Callas of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "But what I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth … it's the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Farewell, Opportunity, and well done."