NASA's Opportunity Rover Declared Dead After Record-Breaking 15 Years on Mars

Sand dunes are seen on Mars in this image released by NASA

Sand dunes are seen on Mars in this image released by NASA

The second stage of the space agency's Mars Exploration Rover mission will deploy on the Red Planet Mars 2020, an upgraded rover armed with a handy drill to collect samples from the surface. Originally expected to last only 90 days, the Opportunity mission explored the Red Planet for almost 15 years, making key discoveries about Martian geology.

NASA's beloved Mars rover, Opportunity, has been officially laid to rest more than seven months after it was engulfed by a very big dust storm and fell silent.

"I was there with the team as these commands went out into the deep sky, and I learned this morning that we had not heard back and Opportunity remained silent", said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for space science.

The rover's greatest gift, according to Professor Squyres, was providing a geologic record at two distinct places where water once flowed on Mars, and describing the conditions there that may have supported possible ancient life. While the Voyager missions pressed on even 42 years after launch, they never had to sweep through a global dust storm or survive hazardous terrain.

On January 24, 2004, the Opportunity rover sent back its first signal from the Red Planet.

The rover's identical twin Spirit was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after getting stuck in some sand on the opposite side of Mars.

NASA's InSight lander touched down last November, while the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater for more than six years.

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But as of Wednesday, more than 1,000 recovery commands had been sent to Opportunity - with no reply.

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.

The community of researchers and engineers involved in the programme were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy. "But we want to remember the 14-and-a-half years of phenomenal exploration".

Perseverance Valley is a fitting final resting spot for the spacecraft, which was originally expected to conduct science for just 90 days.

So while Opportunity may be gone, it leaves behind an incredible legacy. "And when you combine the discoveries of Opportunity and Spirit, they showed us that ancient Mars was a very different place from Mars today, which is a cold, dry, desolate world". Steve Squyres, a professor at Cornell University in the United States studying the history of water on the Red Planet, called Mars a "dry, desolate world". The reason for the loss of communication is due to a massive dust storm that blotted out the sky. "It wouldn't know when to deep-sleep", Callas said, and that may have led the rover to keep the heater on and exhaust the last of its energy. The rover's batteries were in good health prior to the dust storm, and the surface temperature was relatively warm when the storm began.

"We are doing everything in our power to communicate with Opportunity, but as time goes on, the probability of a successful contact with the rover continues to diminish". And it's the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission.

And one day, NASA hopes rover tracks will be alongside human footprints on the Red Planet.

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