Opportunity: The little Mars rover that Could

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After living a lifetime 50 times longer than originally expected, Mars’ rover Opportunity has died. Two identical rovers, Spirit and Opportunity, were launched in 2003 for NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover (MER) Mission. They both landed on Mars Jan. 2004 with the expectation of lasting three months while traveling less than a mile. Spirit reached its end in 2010 after the rugged terrain trapped the rover. Opportunity surpassed all expectations and lived to be over fourteen years old, finally ending its mission.

Opportunity found past signs of water on Mars, explored craters and studied rocks and the impact of its heat shield after landing on the Red Planet. The rover traveled over 28 miles during its life.

According to National Geographic, John Callas, the project manager for the Mars Exploration Rovers mission, stated “With this mission, more than other robotic missions, we have made that human bond, so saying goodbye is a lot harder. But at the same time, we have to remember this phenomenal accomplishment—this historic exploration we’ve done. I think it’ll be a long time before any mission surpasses what we were able to do.”

It’s believed a dust storm from one of Mars’ seasonal winds, lasting from Nov. to Jan., was the cause of Opportunity’s unfortunate end. Previously, the storms helped clear away the accumulated red dust on Opportunity’s solar panels, lengthening its life. This time, however, Opportunity didn’t pull through. NASA sent commands to attempt to revive the rover on January 25, thinking a faulty antenna or clock may have been the cause of the rover’s silence. NASA now says Perseverance Valley, which was named after the steadfast Opportunity, will now be the forever resting place for this rover.

“Despite the end of Opportunity’s mission, the future is bright for continued exploration of Mars,” according to Johns Hopkins University astrophysics graduate student Brian Healy. The Curiosity rover is entering its seventh year of science operations, searching for signs of past water and life on the Red Planet’s surface. The recently arrived Insight lander will study Mars’ interior structure, seismic activity and weather. Another rover, set to launch in 2020, will drill deep into the planet’s soil to determine if life ever existed on Mars.