It has been 8 months since Opportunity, NASA’s history-making rover, last sent a message to earth. Mars had just experienced a severe dust storm which NASA believes shut down Opportunity. The dust storm was so strong that it blocked light from reaching Opportunity’s solar panels.
Opportunity originally touched down on Mars on January 25, 2004. It had only been meant to operate for 90 days, but majorly exceeded that by 5,425 days (nearly 15 years). In all those years, Opportunity is said to have “changed our understanding of the Martian landscape, geology, atmosphere, and history.” It gave us evidence that water had flowed on Mars’ surface billions of years ago, supporting the belief that Mars had once been habitable. Oppy also changed the way we utilize and understand rovers.
A landscape of Mars taken by Opportunity
15 years of discovery made it difficult for the NASA team to let go of the resilient rover. Despite over a thousand radio signals sent over the course of 8 months, Oppy retained radio silence. After a final transmission of Billie Holiday’s I’ll Be Seeing You NASA announced the mission to be complete. Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, stated:
I was there yesterday and 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. Opportunity remains silent. It is therefore that I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude [and] I declare the Opportunity mission as complete.
Sadly, Oppy will have to remain ‘asleep’ in his last known position in Perseverance Valley. They hope to one day be able to take him home to earth and celebrate the discoveries he’s made for mankind. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine shares: “It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars.”
Curiosity, another NASA rover, remains active on Mars and will be joined in 2020 by NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and the European Space Agency’s Rosalind Franklin rover.
Rest well, Rover