The Journey of Opportunity Rover has come to an End. Here are some facts

The Journey of Opportunity Rover has come to an End. Here are some facts

The Journey of Opportunity Rover comes to an End
Image Credits: NASA

The world finally (14 years after its launch) said goodbye to NASA’s Mars Opportunity Rover after it went completely silent.

Many may argue that it was just another machine but the entire scientific community went gloomy upon hearing the news. The last message from the rover added to the feelings of gloominess as acknowledged by Mark Lemmon, an Atmospheric Scientist at the Space Science Institute. He expressed his grief in the following words:

“You can always look back and say, ‘This is a rover that way outlived her expectations and accomplished a lot.’ But that doesn’t make the grief go away. It’s odd to think about grief being associated with a machine. But it’s a part of our lives. We worry about it; we think about its power, its usage of energy, like a care-and-feeding kind of thing. It’s not just a piece of machinery. It obviously is that, but also something that’s connected to everybody. We’ve gone through 14 years of living our lives, with operating the rover on Mars being the one constant thing in that.”

Opportunity Rover

About the size of a car, the Opportunity Rover, also called Mars Exploration Rover – B (MER-B) was launched on the 7th of July 2003. On 25th January 2004, the rover touched down on Mars and landed in the Meridiani Planum, a plain near Mars’ equator. It was expected to last a little more than 90 Earth days on its mission but the rover exceeded all the expectations. Opportunity Rover extended its operational time by 14 years, a whopping 55 times its designed lifespan. The rover used solar power to charge its batteries and switched to hibernation mode during dust storms to conserve power.

The Mission

Aside from traversing the Martian terrain, Opportunity Rover was tasked with finding rocks from meteorites such as Heat Shield Rock (a small iron-nickel meteorite) named after being accidentally found near Opportunity’s discarded heat shield. The rover traveled a total distance of 45 kilometers on Martian surface, moving from crater to crater while battling dust storms over the course of 14 years. Abigail Fraeman, the Deputy Project Scientist of the Opportunity Rover, mentioned its good work by saying,

“It was awesome. When it sent back pictures from Eagle Crater, it was totally different from any pictures of Mars we had seen. There were these smooth, dark sands that were just totally alien. The scientists started saying, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s bedrock, I see cross-bedding,’ and they were so excited. I was like, ‘wait a minute, you can do this as a job? You can see that, and look at those pictures and understand the significance of what it means?”

The End of Opportunity Rover

Opportunity stopped all communications on 10th June 2018 and entered the hibernation mode after two days. Researchers hoped that the rover would reboot as the storm passes but it didn’t happen. Probably, the solar panels got covered in a thick layer of dust that caused the batteries to dry out completely. 

From June 2018 to February 2019, over 1000 signals were sent but no response was received. In September 2018, the Curiosity Rover saw the skies clearing on Mars. Once this was announced, the hopes were reawakened that the Opportunity Rover would wake up again, yet it stayed silent. Things did get emotional at NASA as some sentimental messages were also sent to the rover. For instance, one of them said, “Wake up Oppy. Come back!” Amidst hugs, crying, laughter, and sharing of old memories, NASA officially declared the mission to be over on 13th February 2019.

Opportunity Rover was equipped with heaters to keep its electronics within safe temperature limits. During the longer dust storm, these heaters may have used up all the available reserve power. Cold electronic circuitry becomes brittle and can cause breakages in solder joints. NASA acknowledged the achievements of the Opportunity Rover and mentioned that it will be sorely missed. Jim Bridenstine, an Administrator of NASA, gave a tribute to the rover and said,

“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. 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 Final Words of Opportunity Rover

As the light was choked out of existence by the storm, Opportunity’s cameras could barely see through all the dust and it messaged NASA with its final words:

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

And this is how Opportunity’s 5111 days long journey came to an end.

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