The End of Opportunity

NASA’s Opportunity rover mission on Mars finally comes to an end


Photo by NASA/JPL

This image of Opportunity's shadow was taken using the rover's front hazard-avoidance camera on July 26, 2004. In the photo Opportunity continues to move farther into the "Endurance Crater."

Natalie Pearson, Entertainment Editor

On Wednesday, February 13, NASA’s Opportunity rover mission ended after 15 years of exploring the surface of Mars. The Opportunity rover landed on Mars on January 24, 2004, seven months after its launch from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida.

Opportunity was designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1100 yards, but it vastly exceeded expectations. By the end of its journey, it had outlasted its life expectancy by 60 times and traveled more than 28 miles. Its final resting place was fitting, in a way: a region of Mars called Perseverance Valley.

“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 NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), according to NASA’s official website. “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.”

Over 15 years, the rover laid the groundwork for future missions to the Red Planet. It also found evidence for drinkable water on Mars, and discovered the mineral hematite, along with setting multiple records.

On June 10, 2018, however, Opportunity went silent. It had been caught in a massive planet wide dust storm. The rover team hoped Opportunity would bounce back and wake up, as it had multiple times before — but it didn’t.

The rover team sent a few final attempts to reach Opportunity, and on February 2, the team started sending the rover frequent commands in an attempt to reset its clock. That didn’t work either, and with Martian winter approaching on March 23, with colder and darker days, NASA announced that Opportunity’s mission had come to an end on February 13.

The rover team at JPL were deeply saddened by the loss of Opportunity.

“It’s like you fall in love with a car you’ve been driving since high school,” said Opportunity deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman of JPL, according to Science News. “It’s sad to have to let go of that machine.”

The public also mourned the death of the Mars rover. It was posted on social media that the rover’s supposed ‘last words’ were: “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.” It went viral and people started talking about it as if it were fact.

In actuality, it was just a poetic interpretation.

“It basically said we had no power left, and that was the last time we heard from it,” said Fraeman, in regards to the rover’s last communication on June 10, 2018.

“It also told us the skies were incredibly dark, to the point where no sunlight gets through,” said project manager John Callas. “It’s nighttime during the day.”

Mars exploration continues, however. NASA’s InSight lander touched down on November 26, 2018 and has just begun scientific investigations. NASA’s Mars 2020 rover and the European Space Agency’s ExoMars rover will both launch in July 2020, being the first rover missions designed to find signs of past microbial life on Mars.

Natalie Pearson

Natalie became a member of the Flightline in August of 2017. She is a junior this year, involved in band. Outside of school, she enjoys watching movies and playing video games. You can email her at [email protected]