NASA’s Opportunity rover, a fiesty little legend if there ever was one, has officially been retired after fourteen years traversing the Martian surface.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine today confirmed the end of the rover’s operations, closing one mankind’s most successful interplanetary exploration missions.
“It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” Bridenstine said.
The details of Opportunity’s adventure on our little red neighbour are pretty inspiring. When it touched down on January 4, 2004, Opportunity was expected to last 90 Martian days. Instead, the rover trucked around for years on end, eventually covering more than 45 kilometres of Mars’ harsh surface.
In its journeys, Opportunity made some pivotal discoveries about the planet, including evidence suggesting Mars once held liquid water. As it turns out, water is pretty important for environments which harbour terrestrial life; Opportunity’s findings suggest the planet may have once been habitable by living creatures.
Opportunity was also a handy photographer, and sent back more than 217,000 images for perusal by teams on Earth. Some of them provided the clearest looks yet at the planet’s rust-coloured surface.
Conditions on that surface proved to be incredibly tough, even for Opportunity. The rover was once stuck in the planet’s thin dust, threatening its operations. While it escaped that particular obstacle thanks to a tactical burnout, it couldn’t escape the dust storm which enveloped Mars in June 2018.
The brains of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory tried to contact the rover many, many times after that. Unfortunately, Opportunity remained silent. The last attempt to contact Opportunity was sent Tuesday.
The folks behind the mission celebrated the rover’s achievements with a sweet lil’ video:
Humanity’s greatest explorers aren’t always human.
— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) February 13, 2019
RIP to a real one.