NASA says goodbye to Opportunity, Mars rover

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A self-portrait taken by NASA's Curiosity rover taken on Sol 2082 (June 15, 2018). A Martian dust storm has reduced sunlight and visibility at the rover's location in Gale Crater. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

 Hannah Kiester

After 15 years of Mars exploration, the rover, Opportunity’s mission has officially been called to an end.

NASA lost contact with the rover in June 2018 after a severe dust storm on the surface of Mars interfered with the rover’s solar paneling that allows it to charge. Administrators made thousands of attempts to re-gain contact with the rover, but none have been successful. 

“We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts,” John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said.

Though Opportunity was designed to last only 90 Martian days, the rover lasted nearly 15 years on the surface of the planet. In that time, it traveled nearly 28 miles and transmitted more than 217,000 images back to Earth.

“I remember growing up hearing about Opportunity roving around the red planet and being in awe,” Astronomy Club president Arjeet Tipirneni said. “Oppy proved that rovers could perform long productive missions and laid the groundwork for future missions like Curiosity, Insight, and ‘Mars-2020’.”

In addition to transmitting images back to NASA on Earth, Opportunity also found definite proof that ancient Mars very likely contained liquid water, which is necessary to sustain life. The rover’s primary objective 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.”

When Opportunity stopped responding after the June storm, NASA spent several months attempting to establish contact with the rover. In the past when “Oppy” experienced difficulties, these attempts to re-establish contact were successful. This time, researchers have speculated as to why attempts have been unsuccessful. The most popular rationales are that either the dust storm was too large or that Opportunity has simply become too old to sustain that type of damage.

The final attempt to reach Opportunity was made on Tuesday February 12 before NASA personnel ultimately decided to officially end the mission. 

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