Yesterday (Wednesday 13th February 2019) Nasa officially declared that the 15-year mission of the Mars Opportunity rover is over.
Opportunity’s first self-portrait on Mars
Opportunity, also known as MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover – B) or MER-1 has transformed our understanding of Mars during since landing launching on July 7, 2003.
The golf buggy-sized rover made contact with Earth on June 12, 2018, after being caught in a huge dust storm. NASA had hoped it would reboot once the atmosphere cleared but the US space agency confirmed that it had not. This suggests either catastrophic failure or that a layer of dust has covered its solar panels.
The History of the Opportunity Rover
The primary surface mission for the rover was planned to last only 92 Earth days (90 Sols – Mars days).
It’s mission received several extensions and in total Opportunity operated for a staggering 5498 days from landing to mission end. Throughout its lifespan NASA has released weekly updates of the rover’s mission and progress through the “Opportunity Update Archive”.
In 2014 NASA announced that Opportunity had gained the longest off-world distance record logging 25 miles. This surpassed the previous record of 24 miles on the Moon by Lunokhod 2.
Opportunity rover “off-world” driving distance record, compared to other rovers via Wiki
By March 2015, Opportunity had travelled 26.219 miles, more than the distance of a marathon, and by the end of its mission, it had logged record smashing 28.06 miles.
The death of the Opportunity Rover
In early June last year, a large global-scale dust storm developed on Mars.
Within a few days, the rover’s solar panels were not generating enough power to maintain communications with NASA. The last contact with the rover was on June 10, 2018.
Initially, NASA explained that they did not expect to resume communication until after the global dust storm subsided. However, the agency became less optimistic when the storm ended in October 2017 and the craft remained silent.
Explanations range from catastrophic system failure to dust covering the rovers solar panels. The Opportunity team had hoped that Mars ‘windy period’ between November and January could clear the rover’s panels.
Spent the evening at JPL as the last ever commands were sent to the Opportunity rover on #Mars. 💔
— Dr. Tanya Harrison (@tanyaofmars) February 13, 2019
In January NASA have transmitted 835 recovery commands but received no response. NASA made a final attempt to contact the craft on February 12th and declared the mission officially at an end on February 13th.