NASA’s Opportunity rover has been on the surface of Mars for 15 years, and is now beginning its 16th year on the Red Planet. NASA lost communications with the rover in 2018, but the agency is still working to communicate with it again.
Opportunity rover and its twin Spirit rover were launched from Cape Canaveral in 2003 and landed in the Meridiani Planum of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004. It sent its first signal to Earth by 9:05 p.m. PST, and has been on Mars for the last 15 years. It was built to have the mobility tools to be a functioning robotic geologist on the Red Planet. It has traveled 28 miles and in February 2018 marked its 5,000th Martian day.
Unfortunately, NASA lost communication with Opportunity on June 10, 2018 after a planet-wide dust storm blocked out so much sunlight that the rover couldn’t charge its solar-powered batteries. Its twin, Spirit, finished its mission in 2011.
“Fifteen years on the surface of Mars is testament not only to a magnificent machine of exploration but the dedicated and talented team behind it that has allowed us to expand our discovery space of the Red Planet,” said project manager for Opportunity at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, John Callas.
Even if it has been months since the last time Earth heard from Opportunity rover, NASA is still working on regaining communications with it. Several times a week, engineers at NASA attempt to communicate with Opportunity during its scheduled “wake up” times and search for any response from the rover.
JPL also uses special equipment to detect a wide range of frequencies. They record signals from Mars each day during the rover’s daylight hours and search the recordings for any signals coming from Opportunity. Should they get any signal, they can make attempts to recover Opportunity and continue its mission.
Unfortunately, Callas states that the probability of successfully making contact with Opportunity is diminishing as time goes on.