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Science
14 Feb 2019

NASA bids adieu to Opportunity, the indomitable Mars rover

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover officially declared dead

Eight months after it fell silent during a dust storm sweeping across Mars, NASA, on Wednesday, bid an emotional farewell to its Opportunity rover, and declared it officially dead.

Making the announcement, NASA said that over 1,000 radio signals had been beamed to Opportunity since the dust storm, but the rover had not responded to any.

Here are the details.

In context

NASA's Opportunity Mars rover officially declared dead

'Opportunity remains silent', declared NASA rather emotionally

"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," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate.

Last year's dust storm is believed to have killed Opportunity

Death

Last year's dust storm is believed to have killed Opportunity

According to John Callas, the project manager of the Opportunity mission, last year's dust storm on the Red Planet was so intense that it had blacked out the sky, keeping sunlight from reaching the rover's solar panels, starving it of energy.

Yet, despite its death, Opportunity, in its 15 years of service, made massive contributions to humanity's understanding of Mars.

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Mission

Opportunity had touched down on Mars in January 2004

Opportunity touched down on Mars on January 25, 2004.

Although it was designed to operate for 90 days, the rover demonstrated inexplicable resilience, and survived for a whopping 15 years.

Its twin rover, Spirit, which touched down on January 4, 2004 and was designed to operate for 90 days too, was declared dead in 2009 after it got stuck in Martian sand.

Opportunity found evidence of water on Mars; set driving record

Contribution

Opportunity found evidence of water on Mars; set driving record

In its 15 years of service, the golf-cart sized Opportunity drove a record 28.06 miles on the Martian surface - far more than any rover had driven on any celestial body beyond Earth.

Further, Opportunity also provided evidence confirming that water once flowed on the Red Planet, thereby suggesting that Mars might once have been habitable.

It also beamed back photos of the Martian landscape.

Looking ahead

Curiosity remains active; another mission coming up in 2020

As it stands, NASA currently has one active rover - the car-sized Curiosity - on the Red Planet.

Curiosity touched down on Mars in August 2012, and has driven 12 miles on the planet so far.

Meanwhile, NASA is also preparing to send another rover to the Red Planet in 2020 in a bid to search for past evidence of life.

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