Fifteen years ago, the two science rovers Spirit and Opportunity landed on Mars. Thus began an epic mission of science and discovery. Though Spirit gave up the ghost in 2010 when it’s batteries could no longer continue to heat the rover, Opportunity soldiered on until a massive dust storm engulfed Mars and stopped its solar panels generating power.
NASA has been trying to contact the rover for some time (over 1,000 attempts!) since the dust storm lifted, but it made the final attempt yesterday. With no response, NASA has declared that Opportunity’s mission has come to an end. Though the probe will remain on the surface for retrieval, it will likely never broadcast or move again.
Opportunity has spent fifteen years on Mars. It’s moved more than 45 kilometres and done lots of great science. Consider that it was originally designed to work for only 90 days and movie about 1.1 kilometres. Talk about exceeding expectations. This is similar to the Voyager One planetary (now interstellar) probe.
Some of the important discoveries that Spirit and Opportunity have made include:
- Showing that Mars was once warm and wet, and probably suitable for life by confirming the existence of rocks eroded by water.
- Found hematite at it’s landing site, a material that only forms in the presence of water.
- Taking over 210,000 images of Mars’ surface, including 360 degree panoramas.
With the end of Opportunity’s operations, it’s not the end of the exploration of the Red Planet. After all, a congressional republic will flourish there in the future. Wait…wrong universe.
NASA’s latest Mars mission, Insight, only landed in November 2018. Further, the Curiosity rover continues to explore the surface. Europe will also be sending the ExoMars mission in 2020. Together, ExoMars and InSight will seek signs of past life on Mars.