The longest-running Mars mission is officially over, NASA announced on Wednesday, putting an end to its desperate attempts to establish contact with the silent Opportunity robot. That marked the start of a 90-day planned mission for the six-wheeled, golf cart-sized rover.
"It is therefore that I am standing here with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission is complete, and with it the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) mission complete", announced Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate, at a press briefing held today at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California.
Opportunity was part of the NASA's larger Mars Exploration Rover mission, and was sent to space in 2004 alongside its twin rover, Spirit, carrying pieces of the World Trade Center. The agency said it had ended its efforts to communicate with Opportunity after sending more than 1,000 radio signals its way, including some just last night.
It was the longest-lasting craft on the planet, and team members are already looking back at Opportunity's achievements, including confirmation water once flowed on Mars. "I feel great about this", he said, stressing that both Spirit and Opportunity died honorable deaths after doing far more than was expected of them.
Eleven years and two months after its landing on Mars, the total driving distance of NASA's Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity surpassed the length of a marathon race: 26.219 miles (42.195 kilometers).
"What I'm looking forward to in the museum, the artifact that I most want, is something from one of the Mars rovers that one of the first crews on Mars has been able to bring back to Earth", she said.
NASA believes the June dust-storm blocked out so much sunlight that the rover could no longer change its batteries. NASA lost contact on June 10. But they shared a main mission goal: to hunt for signs of long-ago liquid-water activity, thereby helping scientists better understand Mars' evolution and past potential to host life. "Now she can rest, beneath a thin layer of dust, knowing she did humanity proud", Tanya Harrison, director of research for the Space Technology and Science Initiative at Arizona State University and science team collaborator on Opportunity, told Astronomy.
InSight landed safely on Mars on November 26, kicking off a two-year mission to explore the deep interior of the Red Planet.
Nasa had even put together a special space-and-Mars-themed playlist to try and wake Opportunity up again.
NASA hopes to take humans to Mars by the 2030s.
"But what I suppose I'll cherish most is the impact Opportunity had on us here on Earth".
Opportunity was the fifth of eight spacecraft to successfully land on Mars, all belonging to NASA. Then, it was on to Victoria crater, and from there Opportunity traveled through Marathon Valley, so named because that's where the rover crossed the "marathon" mark of 26.2 miles.
Created to last just 90 Martian days and travel 3,300 feet, Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity.