Mars exploration NASA pioneer robot officially "dead" after 14 years

  • Mars exploration NASA pioneer robot officially

Mars exploration NASA pioneer robot officially "dead" after 14 years

A remarkably durable NASA rover created to traverse the surface of Mars for three months has stopped communicating with Earth after 15 years of service, officials said on Wednesday, ending a mission that astounded and gratified the U.S. space agency. The storm was so intense that it darkened the sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover's solar panels.

"Engulfed by a giant planet-encircling dust storm: Is there a more fitting end for a mission as ideal and courageous from start to finish as Opportunity?" he said.

"We were meant to get to this point: To wear these rovers out, to leave behind no unutilized capabilities on the surface of Mars", said John Callas, MER project manager.

Finally, Opportunity headed into Perseverance Valley, where the 2018 dust storm overtook the robot.

NASA engineers made their last attempt at contacting Opportunity on February 12. Some thought the Deep Space Network had picked up a signal in August and again in November, which briefly raised hopes, but these weren't real detections.

"I declare the Opportunity rover mission as complete", Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's Associate Administrator, declared during a press briefing on Wednesday. The Curiosity rover has been exploring Gale Crater for more than six years. Because the rover is solar-powered, it was unable to charge its batteries and operate, presumably due to its solar panels being covered by a significant amount of dust, sand and dirt. Now, with NASA having already exhausted its planned attempts to reestablish contact with the aging robot, NASA appears prepared to call a wrap on the Opportunity project. Spirit came to rest on the west side of Home Plate in the Columbia Hills region of Mars. Opportunity was launched on July 7, 2003, aboard a Delta II rocket.

During its time on the Martian surface, Opportunity would break the record for the longest distance transversed by a rover travelling a total of 45.16 kilometres (28.06) miles.

Opportunity landed in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars on January 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

The program has had an extraordinary record of success: 28.1 miles (45.2 kilometers) traversed, more than the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that USA astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972. "But if you look to its ancient past, you find compelling evidence for liquid water below the surface and liquid water at the surface". Opportunity also documented the mineral hematite, nicknamed "blueberries", providing additional evidence that water had once percolated through the rocks.

In 2008 Opportunity embarked on what was essentially a second mission, undertaking a 21-kilometer drive to Endeavour Crater. Those layered sedimentary rocks lie exposed along the crater's inner wall, and fallen boulders dot the wall's base. Because liquid water is required for life, as we know it, Opportunity's discoveries implied that conditions at Meridiani Planum may have been habitable for some period of time in Martian history.

NASA is trying for a final time to contact its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, before calling it quits. Only two are still working: the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, prowling around since 2012, and the recently arrived InSight, which just this week placed a heat-sensing, self-hammering probe on the dusty red surface to burrow into the planet like a mole. The rover seen from orbit courtesy of the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter on September 20, 2018, post-dust storm.