Ken Kremer —SpaceUpClose.com &
RocketSTEM –13 February 2019
FL – The longest surviving robot ever to explore the surface of Mars – the Opportunity
Mars Exploration Rover – was declared dead by NASA officials today, Feb 13, after
conducting a record-setting 15 year mission on the Red Planet when she failed to respond to a final set of ‘Phone
Home’ sent last night from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California.
discovered wide ranging and wide spread evidence that liquid water conducive to
life flowed on the Red Planets surface long ago. And time and time again she proved
the premise and utility of dispatching a mobile robot geologist to uncover the scientific
died 15 years into her planned 90 day mission!! – and trekked more than a marathon runners distance – a magnificent tribute to everyone on the team that designed, built and
NASA engineers made
one final attempt at a ‘Phone Home Call’ with their world famous Opportunity
Mars Rover that has not communicated a single bit since a massive global dust
storm struck eight months ago, silencing the long lived solar powered robot
commands went out into the deep sky, and I learned this morning that we had not
heard back and Opportunity remained silent,” said Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen,
associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, to a packed
house of scientists and engineers at JPL at 2 PM EST today, Feb 13.
with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity
mission as complete, and with it the
Mars Exploration Rover mission complete.”
“I have to tell you, it’s an emotional
team sport, and that’s what we’re celebrating today.”
The long lived robot
succumbed to a massive dust storm of historic proportions that encircled the
planet eight months ago and turned day into night – thereby starving the six
wheeled solar powered robot and killing her capability to convert sunlight into
electricity and generate power to reharge her batteries.
This set of images from NASA’s Mars
Reconnaissance Orbiter (MRO) shows a fierce dust storm kicking up on Mars in
June 2018, with NASA’s Opportunity and Curiosity rovers on the surface
indicated as icons. Credits:
last communication from the robot nicknamed ‘Oppy’ with Earth was received June
10, 2018 (Sol 5111) where she stands at Perseverance Valley – a gully carved by
flowing liquid water in ancient times along the eroded rim of giant Endeavour Crater.
Since last June NASA
pulled out all the stops to try and regain contact with Opportunity.
In fact on the
occasion of her 15th landing anniversary last month (Jan. 24) NASA announced
that engineers were implementing a new strategy in hopes of making renewed
“The team is continuing to listen for the rover
over a broad range of times, frequencies and polarizations using the Deep Space
Network (DSN) Radio Science Receiver,” said NASA.
As of today more than
1000 recovery commands were transmitted from the team via the DSN – but nothing
has been heard back from Oppy.
“We have made every reasonable engineering
effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of
receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts,” said John
Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at the JPL briefing.
final transmission last night was sent via the 70-meter Mars Station antenna at
NASA’s Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California.
“We were meant to get to this point, to wear
these rovers out, to leave behind no unutilized capability on the surface of
Mars, but we had no idea it would take this long. But even still, this is a
hard day, and this is hard for me because I was there at the beginning.”
She has driven
over 28 miles (45 km) on an amazing overland expedition of science and
discovery since landing on Mars 15 years ago!
And she spotted dust
devils along the way. Wind related events helped clean off the solar panels
renewing her energy and extending her life numerous times.
“I will never forget the amazing work
that happened here,” Zurbuchen stated with emotion.
It transformed our understanding of our
planet. Everything we do and think about in our planetary neighborhood with
Mars and elsewhere relates to the research that came from that, and the
engineering breakthroughs that came from that.”
Opportunity’s adventures, I’m including herein several of the hundreds of
Opportunity rover mosaics created by the imaging team of Ken Kremer (founder
and editor of Space UpClose) and Marco Di Lorenzo. Also check out our route map
showing the entire 15 year journey across Mars.
planet encircling dust storm hit in late May 2018, the six wheeled robot had
operated for 14 and one half years !! – far
beyond the wildest expectations of the science and engineering team.
In fact Opportunity
mission was only warrantied to last a mere 90 sols, or 3 months since sending her
first signal back to
Earth from the surface on Jan. 24 at 9:05 p.m. PST (Jan. 25, 2004, at 12:05
the end she endured and explored for nearly 15 years and more than 55 times
beyond what scientists planned.
then Opportunity has conducted a resoundingly successful scientific foray on the alien Red Planets surface
on an stunning overland trek encompassing more than 28 miles (45 kilometers) across
a region called Meridiani Planum.
been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars’
ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted
Martian landscapes,” said Zurbuchen
tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues – both on
the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander – and in the
clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape.”
When the massive planet-encircling dust storm hit Opportunity had
been descending down and exploring Perseverance
Valley located along the eroded western rim of the gigantic 22-km diameter (14
mi) impact crater named Endeavour.
interplanetary journey of more than 100 million miles she rolled to a stop and made
a hole in one landing inside shallow Eagle Crater. She bounced two dozen times
during the improbable airbag assisted landing.
twin sister Spirit found extensive evidence that liquid water once flowed on
Mars billions of years ago ago when it was warmer and wetter and thus could potentially
have supported Martian microbial life forms. Opportunity discovered clay
minerals that formed in pH neutral water more conducive to life.
As of Feb 12, 2019 long
lived Opportunity has survived or experienced over 5350 Sols (or Martian days)
roving the harsh environment of the Red Planet.
228,771 images and traversed over 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers) – more than a marathon.
Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA,
Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK and more space and mission reports direct
from the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida and
Wallops Flight Facility, Virginia.
Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human
spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com
–www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com
KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed on TV and radio about space topics.
Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events
Apr 3: “Exploring
Mars; The Search for Life & A Journey in 3-D.” 7 PM, Lawton C
Johnson Middle School, Summit, NJ. Open to the public. Details upcoming.
Latest results from Mars & Ultima Thule
|Spirit and Opportunity rover accomplishments by the numbers: Credit: NASA/JPL|