Saying goodbye can be hard – and NASA are certainly finding that out this week, after it emerged that one of their trusty Mars rovers, Opportunity, will no longer be traversing the dusty, red dunes of our neighboring planet. This, therefore, leaves Curiosity to roam the sands alone – marking the end of an incredible 14-year journey for the pioneering rover.
It’s thought, according to BBC News, that dust clogging Opportunity’s solar panels may have been to blame for its demise, having finally given up the ghost with over a decade of data-gathering beneath its belt. It’s said to have travelled over 40 km, or 28 miles – going further than many perhaps thought it might. Its last contact with Earth occurred last summer, in the height of June – where it venture bravely into a dust storm. Sadly, as NASA have officially called time on the project this week, it was never to return.
“We tried valiantly over these last eight months to recover the rover, to get some signal from it,” John Callas, project manager for Opportunity, advised. “We’ve listened every single day with sensitive receivers, and we sent over 1000 recovery commands. We heard nothing and the time has come to say goodbye.”
Opportunity arrived on the Red Planet in 2004, alongside a sister unit known as Spirit. Spirit, sadly, didn’t quite have the run that ‘Oppy’ had – having literally bitten the dust in 2010, with almost 8km of terrain covered. Oppy therefore apparently carried on valiantly without its twin, having pushed on for another eight years. Their mission was to explore Mars’ terrain for the potential to support and sustain life.
NASA Rover's Mission Comes To An End After Almost 15 Years [video]
The rovers’ findings helped to change the way that we perceived Mars. Oppy and Spirit returned additional evidence to water existing on the planet’s surface, along with iron-rich resources found within craters and pools of water. The journeys of Oppy and Spirit showed that space rovers can still continue to deliver incredible data and do amazing work for those of us still looking to explore the big, wide world.
“One of the great paradigm shifts of Spirit and Opportunity was that we took everything that we needed, we put it on wheels and we made a geologist that could go and investigate the things that the science team was interested in,” systems engineer Jennifer Trosper confirmed.
In any case – these two rovers paved the way for many more like them to go venturing in future. Thank you, Opportunity and Spirit – for all your hard work!