So Long, Opportunity: The Mars Rover Is Gone

Opportunity

NASA's InSight lander to place heat flow probe on Mars

United States space agency NASA is to hold a briefing today at 7 pm GMT (2 pm ET), in which it is to officially announce the Mars Opportunity Rover mission "dead".

The rover reached Mars in 2004, but NASA lost contact with the vehicle a year ago following an epic dust storm that enveloped the red planet and prevented sunlight from reaching its surface.

NASA made its final attempts to contact its estranged Martian rover, Opportunity, late Tuesday. The team at NASA had attempted to talk to Opportunity several times per week once the storm began to clear using the Deep Space Network, an worldwide array of giant radio antennas supporting interplanetary spacecraft missions, and over 600 attempts were made without any response received.

Given the silence from space, "it is therefore that I'm standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete", Zurbruchen told a packed auditorium. "This is an emotional time". And run is an apt term, for Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, were the first truly mobile Mars explorers.

InSight landed safely on Mars on November 26, kicking off a two-year mission to explore the deep interior of the Red Planet. Previously InSight set up the seismometer on Mars to record the Marsquakes, and help scientists to understand how Mars and other rocky planets are formed. Opportunity examined the first extraterrestrial meteorite and traveled 28 miles across the Meridiani Planum, which the mission crew affectionately called a "marathon", setting a new record for longest distance of any off-Earth terrain vehicle. That valley will be Opportunity's eternal resting place.

He explained that scientists expected the rovers to grind to a halt when enough of Mars' red dust settled on their solar panels to choke off their power generation systems.

With project costs reaching about $500,000 a month, NASA decided there was no point in continuing. "They become your children", said John Callas, project manager for JPL's rover programme.

"Even though it's a machine, we're saying goodbye, and it's hard", Callas said. "Everything we do and think about in our planetary neighborhood with Mars and elsewhere relates to the research that came from that, and the engineering breakthroughs that came from that". It also started the clock on a 45-day period that NASA believed would be the best window of time for getting a response from the rover.

Cornell University's Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an "honourable way" for the mission to end.

FILE PHOTO: A self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, a combination of multiple frames taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) during March 22 through March 24, 2014 on planet Mars is seen in this NASA/JPL-Caltech image released on April 17, 2014. "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. It also discovered evidence that there was once water on Mars, which may have been a possible breeding ground for extraterrestrial life.

"I can not think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley", said Michael Watkins, director of JPL.

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