NASA declares Mars Opportunity rover dead after 15 years of planetary roving

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Final attempt to make contact with Mars Opportunity rover was made on 12 February, but the rover didn't respond. Image: NASA
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Final attempt to make contact with Mars Opportunity rover was made on 12 February, but the rover didn't respond. Image: NASA

Final attempt to make contact with the rover was made on Tuesday, but the rover didn't respond

NASA's Mars Opportunity rover has been officially declared dead.

In a press conference on Wednesday, NASA revealed that a final attempt to establish contact with the rover was made on 12 February, but the rover didn't respond to commands sent and failed to wake up.

Opportunity - affectionately known as 'Oppy' - was designed to last for just 90 Martian days (sol) and to travel about 1,000 metres on the surface of the planet. But, the golf-buggy-sized rover surpassed all expectations by roving across Mars for 5,352 Martian sols and pushing its limits to cover a distance of about 45 kilometres on the Red Planet.

Opportunity last made contact with the mission team on 10th June 2018, just before it was covered in the darkness of a giant dust storm on Mars. The storm completely blocked out sunlight, preventing the battery from charging.

NASA engineers hoped the solar-powered rover would revive itself and make a contact with the team once the storm abated. Over the past eight months, more than 1,000 recovery commands were sent to revive the rover, but the rover hasn't responded to any of those efforts to wake it up.

"I'm standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude, as I declare the Opportunity mission complete," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

With the death of the Opportunity rover, NASA's Mars Exploration Rovers programme has also officially come to an end.

Opportunity was launched in 2003 along with its twin rover called Spirit. Their goal was to study whether Mars ever had the conditions necessary to support life. Opportunity landed in a region called Meridiani Planum on 24th January 2004, while its twin landed 20 days before in the Gusev Crater.

Spirit's mission came to an end in 2011, about a year after getting stuck in the sand. But Opportunity continued its scientific research for years, withstanding the extreme temperatures and radiation on Mars.

Over the course of its mission, Opportunity discovered decisive proof of liquid water on ancient Mars.

"When I think of Opportunity, I will recall that place on Mars where our intrepid rover far exceeded everyone's expectations," said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project at Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

"But what I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth."

"It's the public that followed along with our every step. And it's the technical legacy of the Mars Exploration Rovers, which is carried aboard Curiosity and the upcoming Mars 2020 mission. Farewell, Opportunity, and well done."

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