Goodbye Oppy: NASA Declares Mars Opportunity Rover Dead

"We were meant to get to this point: To wear these rovers out, to leave behind no unutilized capabilities on the surface of Mars", said John Callas, MER project manager.

Then last June, a thick dust storm clouded the martian atmosphere, sharply reducing the sunlight reaching the rover's solar panels.

Officials declared the 15-year-old rover Opportunity dead Wednesday, eight months after by a ferocious dust storm.Flight controllers sent one final series of recovery commands Tuesday night, accompanied by one last wake-up song, Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You". The team at NASA had attempted to talk to Opportunity several times per week once the storm began to clear using the Deep Space Network, an global array of giant radio antennas supporting interplanetary spacecraft missions, and over 600 attempts were made without any response received.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and covered 28 miles (45 km) on the planet.

The last communication from the rover was received 10 June.

The vehicle was only built to drive 1km on the surface of the Red Planet, but ended up lasting longer on Mars than any other robot. Nonetheless, both vehicles exceeded NASA's expectations - especially Opportunity.

United States space agency NASA is to hold a briefing today at UK time 7 pm, in which it is to officially announce the Mars Opportunity Rover mission "dead".

It stumbled upon the first meteorite found on another planet, revealing that Meridiani Planum was once immersed in water, studied more than 100 impact craters and sent home stunning panoramas of a planet nearly 34 million miles from Earth.

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With Spirit and Opportunity now out of action, NASA is left with five spacecraft on or around Mars.

When the sky finally cleared, Opportunity remained silent, its internal clock possibly so scrambled that it no longer knew when to sleep or wake up to receive commands. Instead, the rover has persisted for 15 years, sending back incredible data and photos from Mars to help unravel the Red Planet's secrets. It was there, using geological instruments, that it confirmed that liquid water was once present on Mars.

"However, this anniversary can not help but be a little bittersweet as at present we don't know the rover's status", Callas said at the time.

"Larry was the planning lead for the missions, so he actually figured out where the rover was going to go", said Greenhouse. After all, Opportunity wasn't the first rover to get to Mars, and it won't be the last.

"It is therefore that I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude [and] I declare the Opportunity mission as complete".

NASA is planning a new rover mission to Mars that is expected to launch in 2020 to search for evidence of past life on the Red Planet.

NASA's InSight lander touched down last November, while the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater for more than six years.

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine, who broke the news to team members gathered at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, said that although some people were "a little choked up", the general mood was one of celebration.

  • Douglas Reid