After 15 years, NASA might finally say goodbye to Opportunity, the Mars rover that discovered definitive proof that water once flowed in the Red Planet.
The End Of NASA's Opportunity Rover
Steven W. Squyres, the principal investigator behind the mission, warned in a recent interview that while efforts to recover the rover are ongoing, it might be the end of the line for Opportunity.
"I haven't given up yet," Squyres told The New York Times. "This could be the end. Under the assumption that this is the end, it feels good. I mean that."
The statement comes after months of trying to connect and communicate with the rover. The last that the team of engineers at NASA heard from Opportunity was in June 2018 before a planet-wide dust storm covered Mars in a red haze.
NASA hoped that once the skies have cleared, the rover will be able to get enough sunlight and recharge its batteries. However, months after the storm had ended and the dust had settled, the rover continued to be unresponsive.
The June 2018 dust storm is said to be the most intense that has been observed on Mars. It caught Opportunity by surprise, forcing it to go into survival mode.
"That's an honorable death," added Squyres.
The U.S. space agency has not stopped to contact Opportunity. On Friday, Jan. 25, a team of engineers started sending new commands to the rover in the hopes of addressing internal issues that might have been preventing it from phoning home. The team will keep trying the new effort to contact the rover in the next several weeks.
Opportunity's 15-Year Adventure
NASA's Opportunity rover was launched on July 7, 2003, with its twin, Spirit. It landed on the surface of Mars on Jan. 24, 2004 to begin a 90-day mission to find convincing geological signs that water once flowed on the red planet.
The two rovers each found evidence of habitable environment in ancient Mars where liquid water — in some places with a neutral pH — once flowed.
In 2009, Spirit became ensnared in a sand trap. Unable to survive the Martian winter, it stopped transmitting to Earth in 2010.
Meanwhile, Opportunity celebrated its 15th year anniversary exploring the Red Planet this month, becoming the longest-running Mars rover yet.
Originally expected to travel a hundred yards, Opportunity had clocked in 28 miles before it, too, went silent in June.