Saturday, 16 February, 2019

NASA Says Goodbye to Opportunity Rover After Months of Silence

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars Credit NASA
Frank Williams | 14 February, 2019, 06:54

U.S. space agency NASA will make one final attempt to contact its Opportunity Rover on Mars late Tuesday, eight months after it last made contact. The golf-cart-sized rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning airbags.

"I heard this morning that we had not heard back", said Zurbuchen, explaining that the "beloved" rover remains silent.

"It is, therefore, that I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete", Zurbuchen said during an online video presentation at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Spirit and Opportunity moved, of course, over surprising spans of time and space. "I will never forget the awesome work that happened here". The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved.

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 rover's greatest gift, according to Professor Squyres, was providing a geologic record at two distinct places where water once flowed on Mars, and describing the conditions there that may have supported possible ancient life. Spirit, too, lasted much longer than planned, finally going dim forever in 2010 after a sand trap crippled the machine, limiting its ability to reorient and receive adequate sunlight to power itself.

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. Without electricity from the solar cells, the spacecraft's batteries could not recharge and power levels presumably fell below the minimum needed to keep the rover's computer and its master clock operating. Dust storms are common on Mars, but a global event like the one we saw in 2018 only happens every few years. But this time, the storm was worse and the opacity of the atmosphere climbed to unprecedented levels.

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"Opportunity" has not made a peep since 10 June. They've sent more than 835 recovery commands that remain unanswered.

Callas believes it is "good luck that we skirted so many possible storms" over the years.

"And so, it comes time to say goodbye", he said.

"Hail to the Queen of Mars", added Mike Seibert, Opportunity's former flight director and rover driver, in another tweet while Frank Hartman, who piloted Oppy, told AFP he felt "greatly honored to have been a small part of it". But 14-and-a-half years later, and 45 kilometers of odometry, we've done phenomenal things.

And the duo's work has paved the way for even more-ambitious Red Planet roving.

The rover, along with its partner, Spirit, landed on Mars in 2004 as part of the Mars Exploration Rover mission. Those attempts followed a major dust storm that left Mars' skies dark, and Opportunity unable to access solar energy. There are still several orbiters around the planet including MAVEN, Mars Odyssey, and Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter.

NASA's InSight lander touched down last November, while the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater for more than six years. The space agency is developing another Curiosity-class rover for launch in 2020.

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