RIP Opportunity, the Little Mars Rover That Could

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

The agency will have made one final attempt to contact Opportunity Rover late last night U.S. time (Tuesday), eight months after the spacecraft last made contact.

During its 15 years on Mars, the rover was tasked with solving a mystery about the planet - namely, whether it had liquid water, which could mean life. On Sept. 20, the HiRISE high-resolution camera on NASA's Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter captured an image of the rover in Mars' Perseverance Valley.

Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars so far, all belonging to NASA.

The golf cart sized rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbour inside cushioning air bags in January 2004.

Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004 and covered 28 miles (45 km) on the planet.

They were rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.

Since September, the team at NASA has been using a "sweep and beep" process to try to contact the robot, which involves sending commands to the rover, and waiting to hear a beep back.

Spirit has not been operational for several years.

"I was actually in the room with the science team the night that Opportunity landed", says Fraeman.

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Project manager John Callas said, "It's just like a loved one who's gone missing, and you keep holding out hope that they will show up and that they're healthy ..."

She was inside the control centre as part of an outreach program. Inspired, Fraeman went on to become a planetary scientist, joined NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and ended up deputy project scientist for Opportunity.

"It gives you an idea just how long this mission has lasted", she said.

Callas believes it is "good luck that we skirted so many possible storms" over the years.

Although the rover was expected to last 90 days, the device has lasted an impressive 15 years.

"You could have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Opportunity", Professor Squyres said.

The scientist said the machine "has given us a larger world". "Mars is now part of our neighborhood".

Meanwhile, the Curiosity rover, which was unaffected by the storm, and the stationary InSight lander, continue to study the Red Planet and carry on missions of discovery that were founded by Opportunity and Spirit.

In November 2018 NASA announced that it has selected the location where its Mars 2020 rover will land on the Red Planet.

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