NASA sent out its Opportunity rover and landed on Mars in January 2004 on a mission to find clues of past water activities on the Red planet. After 15 years, it was declared dead following NASA’s several attempts to contact Opportunity.
A severe dust storm that swept across Mars ended the life of Opportunity. The announcement took place at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California during an emotional media briefing on Wednesday. The agency said that after eight months of sending more than 1,000 radio signals and commands, but still had no response from the rover, NASA concluded its efforts to communicate and accepted the terrible fate of Opportunity.
NASA’s Science Mission members including its Associate Director Thomas Zurbuchen, expressed their sadness when the team sent out commands into space but Opportunity remained silent.
During the media briefing, John Callas, mission’s project manager, opened up that last year’s dust storm was too powerful that it blackened the sky. Thus, blocking any source of sunlight that may come on Opportunity’s solar panels. This also resulted in energy loss for the spacecraft. Callas also recalled on the mission’s early days where they bond with the rover as it was being assembled at the Jet Propulsion Lab. “Even though it’s a machine, and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant,” he said in the briefing.
The story behind Opportunity’s mission on Mars started on January 25, 2004, and for almost 15 years of wheeling across the planet, the rover produced evidences which supported NASA’s claim that water once flowed on the Martian surface. It also emitted back several stark photos of the desolate landscape signifying that Mars might once have been inhabited by unknown creatures.
The golf cart-sized rover also set an historical record for driving around a total of 28 miles, farther than any other rover on Mars or the moon according to data estimated by NASA.
Before the coming of two twin rovers, NASA sent Pathfinder and Sojourner to Mars on a mission to conduct chemical and atmospheric experiments on the Red Planet. But the two only lasted for 83 days without much exploration on the Martian’s surface.
Back on January 4, 2004, Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit were intended to operate for 90 days only, however both machines were far outlived their planned missions. But Spirit got jammed in Martian sand in 2009 so NASA decided to end its mission in 2011 after losing communication with the rover.
The rover duo leaves a legacy especially on the field of science. It acted as roving geologists that help researchers on their goal to prove that other lives existed on Mars. Both were stepping stones for the planned Mars 2020 mission and influencing factors on NASA’s decisions as to where the next rover should land and what it should investigate.
Now, the only active rover left on Mars is the car-sized Curiosity rover which arrived in August 2012 and has already driven 12 miles so far.