NASA About to Pull Plug on Mars Rover, Silent for 8 Months

Science										
		
																	This dune-covered volcanic rock bed is one of the coolest places on Mars					
								
			
	
		Mike Wehner

Science This dune-covered volcanic rock bed is one of the coolest places on Mars Mike Wehner

But with winter setting in at Opportunity's location, the team determined that the Martian nights were getting too cold for the electronics to survive. Many months' worth of attempts to contact the craft failed. The agency confirmed today that the mission has officially ended.

Engineers lost contact with the solar-powered vehicle, dubbed Opportunity, on June 10 of a year ago during an huge dust storm that encircled Mars. But a subsequent "cleaning" event-what NASA calls it when weather conditions clear, exposing the solar panels and allowing the craft to recharge-never happened.

Before the solar-powered duo touched down in January 2004, humanity had successfully dropped just four spacecraft on the Martian surface: the Soviet Union's stationary Mars 3 lander in 1971 (which ceased functioning just seconds after touchdown), NASA's similarly sessile Viking 1 and Viking 2 landers in 1976, and the US space agency's Pathfinder mission in 1997. That's when the Sojourner craft arrived at Mars, roving for 83 Martian days on what was meant to be a seven-day test mission. And run is an apt term, for Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, were the first truly mobile Mars explorers. Two weeks into its mission, Spirit had a computer malfunction.

But even with its sibling gone, Opportunity pressed on. Opportunity was only created to operate for 90 Martian days, but it lasted nearly 15 years (over 5,000 Martian days) and reshaped our understanding of the red planet along the way.

Though hard for those who worked on Opportunity - some for all 15 years or longer - the mission was declared a huge success.

Global dust storms are not unusual on Mars, occurring every few years.

Opportunity not only leaves behind a legacy of discovery, it became the longest-running rover and captured 217,594 raw images.

"You were, and are, the Opportunity of a lifetime", NASA tweeted Wednesday morning.

The programme has had an extraordinary record of success: 45.2km traversed, more than the Soviet Union's Lunokhod 2 moon rover during the 1970s and more than the rover that U.S. astronauts took to the moon on the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

The rovers used a variety of instruments in this quest, including three different spectrometers, a panoramic camera and the high-resolution Microscopic Imager, which delivered magnifying-glass-like views of Red Planet rock and dirt.

Today, only a single rover is still active on Mars, Curiosity, which arrived in 2012.

"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", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

"We found.evidence that yes, there was liquid water", says Fraeman.

For instance, MAVEN is unlocking the history of the atmosphere and why a once-thick atmosphere went away. Odyssey and MRO look for seasonal deposits of water on Mars, while InSight will study underground, looking for potential signs of unexpected heat and seismic activity that could show that Mars is still alive.

Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars so far, all belonging to NASA. May we all be so lucky to have such a rich legacy. And so some argued that Opportunity - affectionately known as "Oppy" by some - wasn't being given the same chance.

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