Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, which has been out of contact for 8 months, failed to respond to NASA’s final attempt to reach it last night. Agency officials and mission scientists announced today that they would not make any more communication attempts.
“Our beloved Opportunity remained silent,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in today’s press conference. “I’m standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude and declare the Opportunity mission as complete and, with it, the Mars Exploration Rover mission as complete.”
NASA lost contact with Opportunity on 10 June 2018 during a historic global storm that blanketed Mars with dust for around 3 months. The rover could no longer charge its solar-powered batteries and went into hibernation. Mars-orbiting satellites spotted the rover after the storm ended, but mission scientists sent more than 835 recovery commands to Opportunity without any response.
Opportunity was originally designed for a 90-day mission but survived for nearly 15 years. Its odometer stopped at 45.16 kilometers and marked the off-world driving record. NASA ended the mission for Opportunity’s twin rover, Spirit, in 2011 after losing communication with it for more than a year.
Opportunity explored Meridiani Planum near Mars’s equator and meridian. Among its many accomplishments, Opportunity discovered several types of hydrated minerals and clays that point to flowing water in Mars’s past, explored more than 100 craters, and conducted long-term studies of the Martian environment. Its pioneering work paved the way for missions like Curiosity, the upcoming Mars 2020 and Rosalind Franklin rovers, and possible human exploration.
“Spirit and Opportunity may be gone,” said Jet Propulsion Laboratory director Mike Watkins, “but they leave us a legacy, and that’s a legacy of a new paradigm for solar system exploration.”
Look back on Opportunity’s journey with these photos from the mission’s past:
—Kimberly M. S. Cartier (@AstroKimCartier), Staff Writer