After 15 years on the Martian surface, NASA's Opportunity rover has officially been declared dead. Opportunity rover helped lay the groundwork for NASA's return to the Red Planet. The Opportunity rover stopped communicating with Earth when a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location in June 2018. Designed to last just 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (1,000 meters), Opportunity vastly surpassed all expectations in its endurance, scientific value and longevity. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover travelled more than 28 miles (45 kilometres) by the time it reached its most appropriate final resting spot on Mars - Perseverance Valley, according to NASA.
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"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," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."
The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.
"Spent the evening at JPL as the last ever commands were sent to the Opportunity rover on #Mars," Tanya Harrison, director of Martian research at Arizona State University, tweeted after a stint at Pasadena's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. "There was silence. There were tears. There were hugs. There were memories and laughs shared. #ThankYouOppy #GoodnightOppy," she wrote.
From the day Opportunity landed, a team of mission engineers, rover drivers and scientists on Earth collaborated to overcome challenges and get the rover from one geologic site on Mars to the next. They plotted workable avenues over rugged terrain so that the 384-pound (174-kilogram) Martian explorer could maneuver around and, at times, over rocks and boulders, climb gravel-strewn slopes as steep as 32-degrees (an off-Earth record), probe crater floors, summit hills and traverse possible dry riverbeds. Its final venture brought it to the western limb of 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 JPL. "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."