NASA's Opportunity Rover Declared Dead After Record-Breaking 15 Years on Mars

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars Credit NASA

Deputy project scientist Abigail Freeman was inspired to join the program after watching Opportunity land on Mars when she was 16 and still at school.

If this truly is the end, "Oppy", as the rover is affectionately known, has well outlasted her original 90-day mission. The car-size Curiosity rover has been characterizing possibly habitable environments inside Mars' 96-mile-wide (154 km) Gale Crater since August 2012, and NASA plans to launch the life-hunting Mars 2020 rover next year. The last such major storm occurred in 2007, which sent NASA's rovers into a "hunker down" mode for several weeks before the skies cleared.

Opportunity's last communication with its handlers occurred on June 10. In fact, Opportunity weathered a major dust storm in 2006 with no problem. There was no response, and NASA is convening its leadership to deliver what appears to be a eulogy for its well-traveled robot Wednesday at 11 a.m. PT.

NASA researchers held out, attempting to ping the rover hundreds of times and listening over the radio waves hoping to hear its signal once again. If you could stand on the surface of Mars right now and gave upon Opportunity, you'd find that its instruments were deployed just days before last contact, ready to do science. The pair were part of the Mars Exploration Rovers, or MER, mission.

Pathfinder included a little rover called Sojourner, but that microwave-oven-size robot traveled a total of just 330 feet (100 meters) during its pioneering operational life.

Associate NASA Administrator Thomas Zurbuchen began the event's commentary: "I stand here, surrounded by the team...it's an emotional time", he began.

Opportunity's mission has led to many discoveries about the Red Planet, but perhaps the most exciting was when the rover found evidence that Mars once had water and supported conditions for sustaining microbial life.

The rover's observations helped scientists build the case that Mars once hosted significant amounts of liquid water.

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NASA's InSight lander touched down last November, while the Curiosity rover has been exploring the Gale Crater for more than six years.

Mobility is crucial in this line of work, he added: "Imagine you're a field geologist, and someone takes you out in a helicopter and sets you down in a fascinating new place - and then they nail your boots to the ground".

InSight also shared a fond farewell to Opportunity on Twitter.

It's lights out for Opportunity, one of NASA's most successful missions of all time. "But we want to remember the 14-and-a-half years of phenomenal exploration". Zurbuchen thanked the hundreds of scientists and engineers for working for nearly two decades on the mission.

"For the public the big change was that Mars became a dynamic place, and it was a place that you could explore every day", Emily Lakdawalla, an expert on space exploration and senior editor at The Planetary Society.

Mission managers tried all sorts of tricks to wake up the comatose rover and re-establish communications, but it was to no avail.

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our fearless astronauts walk on the surface of Mars", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

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