After 15 Years, NASA Officially Ends Opportunity Mission on Mars

A heavy spacecraft would need rockets for braking and steering but could also be flown to steer itself through lift

Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, said the agency is planning to send another rover to the red planet in 2020.

NASA announced yesterday that the team would be putting in its final efforts to contact the rover last night, and would announce the results today.

Communication with Opportunity was lost on June 10 previous year, when a planet-wide dust storm, one of the most intense in decades, hid its location. And aside from a few major storms that got in the way, the rover never stopped returning science data.

"We tried valiantly over these last eight months to try to recover the rover, to get some signal from it". On Sept. 20, the HiRISE high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of the rover in Mars' Perseverance Valley. Zurbuchen was present Tuesday night during a final planned attempt to reach the rover Tuesday evening, asking the rover to respond. By consistently actively pinging the rover during both preplanned recovery times and other random intervals, engineers had hoped to catch Opportunity during an awake period. "The mission exceeded far beyond what I could have expected".

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. Opportunity traveled roughly 28 miles before an intense dust storm on June 10, 2018 sent the rover into hibernation.

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Mobility is crucial in this line of work, he added: "Imagine you're a field geologist, and someone takes you out in a helicopter and sets you down in a fascinating new place - and then they nail your boots to the ground".

A glitch with Opportunity that dates back to very early in its mission may have contributed to its demise.

"My battery is low and it's getting dark". It was supposed to last for 90 here we are 15 years later. "It wouldn't know when to deep-sleep", Callas said, and that may have led the rover to keep the heater on and exhaust the last of its energy.

The JPL event was billed as a media briefing but was more of a celebration of the rover, with project scientists and engineers reminiscing about the mission. (One sol is about 40 minutes longer than one day on Earth.) But the going hasn't always been easy.

In 2021, the recently named Rosalind Franklin robot, part of the European-Russian ExoMars mission, is slated to land on a different part of the planet, raising the population of active rovers to two.

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First, it landed on Eagle crater, a 22-metre-long ditch, and found tiny spherical structures, nicknamed "blueberries", made from hematite.

"This was a historic dust storm and we needed a historic dust storm to finish this historic mission", said Fraeman. The mission began in the Eagle crater, and after studying nearby craters, the scientists chose to take a long journey to the much larger Endeavour crater. "It came 11 years into our 90-day mission".

We kind of new this news would be coming today but now it's official: NASA's Opportunity rover mission is now officially over. The same, he suggested, should be the case for the rovers.

"We built them for Mars".

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