NASA declares Mars rover Opportunity dead

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

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

Its twin rover, Spirit, had landed three weeks earlier on the other side of the planet.

The agency will have made one final attempt to contact its Opportunity Rover late last night United States of America time (Tuesday), eight months after the spacecraft last made contact.

Despite the windy season sweeping over the planet, which scientists hoped would clear the solar-powered rover, engineers have not been able to attempt a recovery mission with zero contact. As of February 6, over 835 recovery command had been sent to the rover. The rover has been silent since a giant dust storm months ago.

"I am standing here, with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude, to declare the Opportunity mission as complete, and with it the Mars Exploration Rovers mission as complete", said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA associate administrator for science.

Cornell University's Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to a ferocious storm an "honourable way" for the mission to end. Dust storms are common on Mars, but a global event like the one we saw in 2018 only happens every few years. Following its initial landing in 2004, the craft found evidence of past water on Mars, accumulating evidence of a rich, potentially habitable past on Mars. "When this little rover landed, the objective was to have it move 1100 yards and survive for 90 days", he exclaimed before reiterating the unexpected 15 years the mission eventually lasted.

The manager of the project, John Callas, described the decay of the machine as like "a loved one who's gone missing". According to Ars Technica, the final transmission sent to Opportunity was the Billie Holiday song "I'll Be Seeing You".

Remarkably agile until communication ended last June, Opportunity roamed a record 45 kilometres around Mars.

In November 2018 NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 rover will land on the Red Planet.

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Callas speculated that the balky heater may have played a role in Opportunity's demise. Spirit, which suffered wheel damage, became stuck at Troy and was unable to collect sufficient sunlight during the following Martian winter, similarly suffering a lack of power and cold damage.

Opportunity, however, has kept on exploring well past its expected sell-by date.

Opportunity's life is certainly one to be celebrated.

The MER mission also changed the way scientists thought about solar system exploration.

It may seem hard to believe given NASA's string of successful Mars missions, but the first successful rover didn't deploy until 1997.

The small rover first arrived on the Red Planet on January 25, 2004.

Today, only a single rover is still active on Mars, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012. "If life ever did come to be on Mars, there ought to be evidence of it there", said Lori Glaze, acting director of NASA's Planetary Science Division.

With that, the Mars Opportunity Rover was officially declared dead, its almost 15 years of service on Mars, on Sol 5352-the number of days Opportunity spent on Mars-came to an end. That valley will be Opportunity's eternal resting place.

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