NASA Declares Mars Rover Opportunity Dead after Record-Setting 15 Year Mission on Red Planet

Opportunity rover explores around the rim of 70 meter wide
Santa Maria Crater on the long trek from Victoria Crater to Endeavour crater in
January 2011 on the 7th anniversary of her landing on the Red Planet.
The rim of Endeavour – her final resting place – is visible in the mosaic on the
horizon at the right, just above the shadow of the rover’s mast.  This
navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 2476 (Jan
10, 2011) and colorized. This mosaic was featured on APOD (Astronomy Picture
of the day) on Jan. 29, 2011.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken
Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

Ken Kremer  SpaceUpClose.com &
RocketSTEM
–13 February 2019



CAPE CANAVERAL,
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.



Opportunity
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
clues. 

The golf cart sized Opportunity
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
operated her. 



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
“I was there with the team as these
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.
“It is therefore that I’m standing here
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
time.”
“Science is an emotional affair, it’s a
team sport, and that’s what we’re celebrating today.” 
This pre-dust storm panoramic mosaic view was one
of the last ones taken by NASA’s Opportunity rover and shows the spectacular
view from her approximate current position as of June 2018 after traveling
halfway down the fluid carved slope of Perseverance Valley – while peering into
the interior of vast Endeavour Crater.  This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled by Ken
Kremer and Marco Di Lorenzo from raw images taken on Sol 5074  (3 May 2018) and colorized. Credit:
NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

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:
NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS

The
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
contact.



“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.



The
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.”





NASA’s Opportunity rover acquired
this Martian panoramic view from a promontory that overlooks Perseverance
Valley below – scanning from north to south. It is centered on due East and
into the interior of Endeavour crater. Perseverance Valley descends from the
right and terminates down near the crater floor in the center of the panorama.
The far rim of Endeavour crater is seen in the distance, beyond the dark floor.
Rover deck and wheel tracks at right. This navcam camera photo mosaic was
assembled from raw images taken on Sol 4730 (14 May 2017) and colorized.
Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

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. 

NASA’s Opportunity
rover discovers a beautiful Martian dust devil moving across the floor of
Endeavour crater as wheel tracks show robots path exploring the steepest ever
slopes of the then 13 year long mission, in search of water altered minerals at
Knudsen Ridge inside Marathon Valley on 1 April 2016. This
navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on Sol 4332 (1
April 2016) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ Ken
Kremer/kenkremer.com/Marco Di Lorenzo

“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.”

To illustrate
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. 

Until the historic
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.

The dramatic image of
NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity’s shadow was taken on sol 180 (July
26, 2004) by the rover’s front hazard-avoidance camera as the rover moved
farther into Endurance Crater in the Meridiani Planum region of Mars.
Credits:
NASA/JPL-Caltech

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
a.m. EST).

In
the end she endured and explored for nearly 15 years and more than 55 times
beyond what scientists planned.

Since
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.

“For more than a decade, Opportunity has
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

“Whatever loss we feel now must be
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. 

Amazingly after an
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. 
Opportunity and
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. 

Opportunity rover looks south
from the top of Perseverance Valley along the rim of Endeavour Crater on Mars
in this partial self portrait including the rover deck and solar panels.
Perseverance Valley descends from the right and terminates down near the crater
floor. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from raw images taken on
Sol 4736 (20 May 2017) and colorized. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken
Kremer/kenkremer.com

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.



Opportunity has taken over
228,771 images and traversed over
28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers) – more than a marathon.


Opportunity’s
view (annotated) on the day the NASA rover exceeded the distance of a marathon
on the surface of Mars on March 24, 2015, Sol 3968 with features named in honor
of Charles Lindbergh’s historic solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean in 1927.
Rover stands at Spirit of Saint Louis Crater near mountaintop at Marathon
Valley overlook and Martian cliffs at Endeavour crater holding deposits of
water altered clay minerals. This navcam camera photo mosaic was assembled from
images taken on Sol 3968 (March 24, 2015) and colorized. Credit:
NASA/JPL/Cornell/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com

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



Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the
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



Ken’s
upcoming talks:



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

15 Year Traverse Map for NASA’s Opportunity
rover from 2004 to 2019. This map shows the entire 45-kilometer (28 mi) path
the rover has driven on the Red Planet during over 15 Earth years (7.8 Mars
years) and more than a marathon runners distance for over 5300 Sols, or Martian
days, since landing inside Eagle Crater on Jan 24, 2004 – to current location
at Perseverance Valley at the western rim of Endeavour Crater. The rover
reached Perseverance Valley in May 2017 and descended about halfway by June
2018.
  Its likely a water carved Martian
gully. Opportunity surpassed Marathon distance on Sol 3968 after reaching 11th
Martian anniversary on Sol 3911. Opportunity discovered clay minerals at
Esperance – indicative of a habitable zone – and searched for more at Marathon
Valley. Credit: NASA/JPL/Cornell/ASU/Marco Di Lorenzo/Ken Kremer/kenkremer.com


Spirit and Opportunity rover accomplishments by the numbers: Credit: NASA/JPL


Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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