NASA officially says goodbye to its Mars rover, Opportunity

NASA announced today that the extraordinary 15-years of service by the Mars Opportunity Rover has officially come to an end in an emotional, hour-long press conference.

The golf-cart-sized rover was only ever created to operate on Mars for 90 Martian days.

John Callas, Mars Exploration Rover project manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, put the epic journey down to a "phenomenal" effort, adding: "We had expected that dust falling out of the air would accumulate on the solar rays and eventually choke off power". A massive dust storm encircling Mars blighted the planet's atmosphere and prevented Opportunity from collecting the solar energy it needed to keep running.

U.S. space agency NASA will make one final attempt to contact its Opportunity Rover on Mars late Tuesday, eight months after it last made contact. 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 worldwide array of giant radio antennas supporting interplanetary spacecraft missions, and over 600 attempts were made without any response received.

Since its launch in 2003, the Opportunity rover managed to roam 28.06 miles (45.16km) on the Red Planet - an impressive record for a device that was originally meant to survive for just 90 days.

NASA on Wednesday said goodbye to Opportunity, a rover that has traversed Mars for almost 15 years and discovered evidence of past water on the red planet.

So while today may be an official goodbye to Opportunity, it lives on in its legacy that informs our exploration of Mars every day.

Mission: The Opportunity rover explored Mars for 15 years.

This image sent by NASA's Opportunity rover on January 7, 2015 shows a view from atop a Martian hill.

Nasa's Opportunity on Mars was to search for clues about the history of water. Spirit, too, lasted much longer than planned, finally going dim forever in 2010 after a sand trap crippled the machine, limiting its ability to reorient and receive adequate sunlight to power itself. Despite their best efforts, engineers were unable to revive the rover which was incapacitated by a huge dust storm covering the planet a year ago. Steve Squyres, a professor at Cornell University in the United States studying the history of water on the Red Planet, called Mars a "dry, desolate world".

"I was actually in the room with the science team the night that Opportunity landed", says Fraeman.

Reuters 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. Together, they found evidence that Mars was once a wet world that could have had the ingredients for life on its surface.

Opportunity was one of two slow-moving rovers that landed on the Red Planet in 2004.

It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our fearless astronauts walk on the surface of Mars.

With its mission is declared over, NASA will no longer issuing commands to Opportunity, leaving it on Mars for good.

According to Steve Squyres of the Mars Exploration Rover Mission, Opportunity "really changed the way scientists perceive Mars".

  • Joey Payne