The Mars Rover Opportunity, originally designed by NASA to trundle around the Martian landscape for just three months, sent its final image in June 2018 after a staggering 15 years of operation.
Evidence gathered by the six-wheeled vehicle indicated that Mars was once a more homo-sapien friendly environment than it is today. An unremitting dust storm ultimately led to its demise. On Tuesday night, a final series of wake up commands, along with a song (Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You”) were sent to the veteran rover but no reply was received.
Head of these NASA missions, Thomas Zurbuchen, broke the news to the opportunity team at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the Space Agency in Pasadena, California. He announced the demise of “our beloved opportunity”.
Opportunity survived her twin rover “Spirit” by several years. The two rovers landed on opposite sides of the planet in 2004 for a mission that was designed to last 90 days (1 Martian day lasts 39 minutes longer than a day on Earth). In the end, Opportunity set endurance and distance records that will not be broken for years to come. Altogether the rover covered a distance of 45 kilometres on Mars and remained operational longer than any other extraterrestrial planetary rover. Equipped with cameras and instruments at the end of a robotic arm, Opportunity was designed to study the geology of Mars. It could grind away at surface material, record microscopic images and analyze the composition of rocks and soil samples.
Its greatest achievement, along with its sister rover Spirit, was to reveal that in earlier times water had flowed across the Martian surface, leaving a tantalising hint that maybe microbiological life has also evolved…