Tuesday, 23 April, 2019

Mars Opportunity Rover Mission is Complete

Opportunity NASA's InSight lander to place heat flow probe on Mars
Cary Marshall | 13 February, 2019, 23:23

Mars experiences regional dust storms each year, but only occasionally do they expand to engulf the entire planet.

"I declare the Opportunity mission is complete", said NASA's Associate Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen during a press conference on Wednesday.

NASA has vowed to send people to Mars by the 2030s, but industry experts say it could take longer - at least 25 years from now - before humans could survive on the Red Planet. The golf cart-size rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning air bags in January 2004.

NASA is trying one last time to contact its record-setting Mars rover Opportunity, before calling it quits.

Rover robots found signs of water in the first rocks they encountered on Mars, as rocks near the aircraft's landing site contained pearl-shaped rocks.

In the end, Opportunity set endurance and distance records that could stand for years, if not decades.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and covered 28 miles (45 kilometers) on the planet, securing its place in history after lasting well beyond its expected 90-day mission. They've sent more than 835 recovery commands that remain unanswered.

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The manager of the project, John Callas, described the decay of the machine as like "a loved one who's gone missing".

"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".

NASA said it tried to reconnect more than 1,000 times before finally giving up the ghost, having made "every reasonable engineering effort" to recover the rover.

Its greatest achievement was discovering, along with Spirit, evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life. The last such major storm occurred in 2007, which sent NASA's rovers into a "hunker down" mode for several weeks before the skies cleared. On Sept. 20, the HiRISE high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of the rover in Mars' Perseverance Valley.

As for Opportunity, "It has given us a larger world", Callas said.

The storm may have scrambled the rover's internal clock, NASA explained on Wednesday, meaning that the rover would not know when to sleep, wake up, or receive commands.

"Mars is now part of our neighbourhood".

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