NASA's Opportunity Rover Ends Mission After 15 Years on Red Planet

 

NASA announced Wednesday that the Opportunity rover's record-setting mission on Mars, which was only designed to last for 90 days, has officially come to an end after more than 15 years on the red planet's surface.

One of the most successful missions NASA has ever launched, Opportunity first landed on Mars on Jan. 31, 2004. The mission was initially scheduled to last for only three months, but thanks to Opportunity's rugged construction, the six-wheeled vehicle kept on going (and going, and going and going), until last June when a ferocious dust storm disabled the rover's communications.

Engineers spent the last eight months making over 800 attempts to reestablish contact with Opportunity. On Tuesday, the team tried one final time to send a series of recovery commands to the rover, along with one last song (Billie Holiday's "I'll Be Seeing You) hoping to wake the rover up.

Unfortunately, there was no response from the craft which led Thomas Zurbuchen, the associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, to declare Opportunity's mission complete in front of a packed auditorium at Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

"I am standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that i declare the opportunity mission as complete," he said.

Opportunity Rover completes mission after 15 years on Red Planet

The golf cart-sized rover rolled around the martian surface got around 5,515 Earth days, covering a record 28-miles. One of its greatest achievements was the discovery of evidence that ancient Mars had flowing water on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining life at one point.

Things started to go wrong for Opportunity last June while it was exploring Mars' Perseverance Valley and a strong dust storm hit, knocking out communications with NASA back on Earth. The storm darkened the martian sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching Opportunity's solar panels.

Even after the skies cleared, Opportunity wouldn't wake up. Engineers believed the rover's internal clock was screwed up and didn't know when to send sleep or wake commands any longer. More than 1,000 recovery commands were send by NASA to try and wake the rover.

Opportunity was the fifth spacecraft sent to Mars that landed successfully, joining its twin, Spirit, which got stuck in a 'sand trap' in 2009.

Two other rovers remain on the red planet's surface, the nuclear-powered Curiosity rover, which arrived on Mars in 2012, and a recent addition - the InSight Lander. Three other rovers are scheduled to be launched by the US, China, and Europe sometime in 2020.

Photos: Getty Images

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