SCIENCE

NASA's Opportunity Rover Is Dead After 15 Year Mars Mission

“Humanity’s greatest explorers aren’t always human,” NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory said of the trailblazing robot.

After 15 years, NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover is officially no more.

The interplanetary robot, which had been providing humans with never-before-seen images of Mars and vital data about the planet, is no longer operating, NASA announced on Wednesday.

“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a release. “And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”

A self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, using a combination of multiple frames taken by Opportunity's p
A self-portrait of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity, using a combination of multiple frames taken by Opportunity's panoramic camera (Pancam) is seen on Mars in 2014.

The news follows months of unsuccessful attempts to make contact with the rover after it lost power in a global dust storm last summer.

Vice President Mike Pence was among those immediately expressing gratitude to the intrepid robot and its entire team on Wednesday, declaring on Twitter: “You made the country proud!”

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), which designed, built and has operated all four of the rovers sent successfully to Mars’ surface, according to its website, also praised Opportunity as completing “one of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration.” 

“Humanity’s greatest explorers aren’t always human,” the research facility proclaimed on Twitter.

The rover continuously surpassed NASA’s expectations after touching down on the Red Planet in January 2004 with an expected operation of just 90 Martian days and 3,281 feet (or 1,000 meters) of travel. A day on Mars is only about 40 minutes longer than Earth’s.

In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the robot trekked more than 28 miles, or roughly 45 times its planned goal. It also set a one-day driving record of 721 feet, according to JPL. 

It snapped more than 217,000 images, including 13 providing 360-degree color panoramas. And it discovered evidence of water once existing on Mars,  including finding a water-forming mineral called hematite and indications of ancient water in a crater, NASA said.

Steve Squyres, principal investigator of the rovers’ science payload at Cornell University, praised Opportunity and its twin rover, Spirit, which lasted 2,210 Martian days, for detailing Mars’ previously unknown past.

“When you combine the discoveries of Opportunity and Spirit, they showed us that ancient Mars was a very different place from Mars today, which is a cold, dry, desolate world,” he said in a statement. “But if you look to its ancient past, you find compelling evidence for liquid water below the surface and liquid water at the surface.”

Opportunities’ confirmed death comes nearly eight months after it vanished in a dust storm that clouded its solar panels, placing it in hibernation mode, NASA had said.

The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her.

Opportunity was spotted by NASA’s Reconnaissance Orbiter on the Red Planet’s Perseverance Valley in September, igniting what would be a fruitless recovery attempt.

“I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley,” Michael Watkins, director of JPL, said in a statement on Wednesday. “The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her.”

NASA’s InSight lander remains on Mars after touching down on Nov. 26. The Curiosity rover also remains, exploring Gale Crater.

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