NASA announced today that the extraordinary 15-years of service by the Mars Opportunity Rover has officially come to an end in an emotional, hour-long press conference.
Nearly 15-Year-Long Mission Officially Over
“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.
With that, the Mars Opportunity Rover was officially declared dead, its nearly 15 years of service on Mars, on Sol 5352—the number of days Opportunity spent on Mars—came to an end.
John Callas, manager of the MER project, said in a statement that “we have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts."
Last night, scientists and engineers at JPL made their final attempt to contact the Mars Opportunity Rover, affectionately nicknamed Oppy. According to Ars Technica, the final transmission sent to Opportunity was the Billie Holiday song “I’ll Be Seeing You.”
“This is a Hard Day”
Callas summed up what most of the Opportunity team felt when he told the assembled press today that “this is a hard day, and this is hard for me because I was there at the beginning.”
For many scientists and engineers on the Opportunity team, their careers and, for some, their lives have been defined by the extraordinary endurance of Opportunity, who was only expected to carry out a 90-day mission.
“When Opportunity landed back in 2004, I was actually in high school," said MER deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman, "I was a high school junior, but I had the amazing opportunity to come to JPL and actually be here when the rovers landed."
“And it was those first images from Opportunity that inspired me to become a planetary scientist,” she added.
Opportunity Met Its End In Perseverance Valley
Opportunity was disabled in June 2018 after a massive, planet-wide dust storm overtook the rover while it was exploring Perseverance Valley, a location 28 miles away from its landing site, Eagle Crater.
“This was a historic dust storm and we needed a historic dust storm to finish this historic mission,” said Fraeman.
It was indeed historic. Opportunity was never expected to travel more than 1 kilometer but outlived its original mission life expectancy 60 times over. By its 15th year on Mars, the Opportunity rover had overcome rugged terrain littered with rocks and boulders, even climbing up a gravel-strewn slope as steep as 32-degrees, thereby setting an off-world record.
“I cannot think of a more appropriate place for Opportunity to endure on the surface of Mars than one called Perseverance Valley," said Michael Watkins, director of JPL, said in a statement. "The records, discoveries and sheer tenacity of this intrepid little rover is testament to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided her.”