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Here’s why NASA just pronounced its famed Mars rover to be dead

14 February 2019
Here’s why NASA just pronounced its famed Mars rover to be dead

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover landing site in 2004.

Deputy project scientist Abigail Freeman was inspired to join the program after watching Opportunity land on Mars when she was 16 and still at school.

But it wasn't meant to be, and NASA officially pulled the plug today. Both rovers were only intended for 90-day missions.

"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.

While some NASA spacecraft have endured for longer than 15 years, those are orbiter or flyby missions-they're not encountering the sheer number of hazards Opportunity did on the ground.

Opportunity's last communication with its handlers occurred on June 10. The left side starts with a blindingly bright mid-afternoon sky, while the far-right side simulates Opportunity's June 2018 view during the global dust storm.

Farewell, Opportunity. We'll miss you.

U.S. space agency NASA is to hold a briefing today at United Kingdom time 7 pm, in which it is to officially announce the Mars Opportunity Rover mission "dead". The pair were part of the Mars Exploration Rovers, or MER, mission.

Opportunity was one of two slow-moving rovers that landed on the Red Planet in 2004.

"I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude, [as] I declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it the Mars Exploration rover's mission as complete", said Thomas Zurbuchen, an associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, during a livestream of the announcement.

Both rovers found plenty of evidence that Mars was relatively warm and wet long ago, with environments that could well have supported life as we know it. Spirit, for example, rolled through an ancient hydrothermal system, revealing that at least some parts of Mars also featured energy sources that ancient organisms could have exploited. But they shared a main mission goal: to hunt for signs of long-ago liquid-water activity, thereby helping scientists better understand Mars' evolution and past potential to host life. It's the accomplished exploration and phenomenal discoveries. Zurbuchen thanked the hundreds of scientists and engineers for working for nearly two decades on the mission. It's the public that followed along with our every step.

Mission managers tried all sorts of tricks to wake up the comatose rover and re-establish communications, but it was to no avail.

"Farewell, Opportunity, and well done". "These rovers really changed the way think about doing science on another planet", Lori Glaze, acting director of the Planetary Science Division, NASA Headquarters, said during the press conference.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine noted that while Opportunity stopped communicating around the same time be began his service with the administration, he was still in awe at the achievements the rover and its team were able to achieve throughout their mission. "And when that day arrives, 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".