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The Last Words of Mars Rover Opportunity Will Break Your Heart

Opportunity in Endurance Crater (via Wikimedia)
It's hard to believe that the Mars Rover Opportunity was only supposed to last for ninety days. Instead, it went on to last over fifteen years. Now that mission has come to an end in a heartbreaking way.

Opportunity, also known as MER-B (Mars Exploration Rover – B) or MER-1, landed in Meridiani Planum on January 25, 2004, three weeks after its twin Spirit (MER-A) touched down on the other side of the planet. With a planned 90-sol duration of activity (slightly more than 90 Earth days), Spirit malfunctioned while Opportunity was able to stay operational, maintaining its power and key systems through continual recharging of its batteries using solar power, and hibernating during events such as dust storms to save power.

This allowed Opportunity to exceed its operating plan by 14 years, 46 days (in Earth time), 55 times its designed lifespan. In addition to exceeding its life expectancy by 60 times, the rover traveled more than 28 miles (45 kilometers).

On June 10, 2018, a severe Mars-wide dust storm blanketed its location, and the rover lost contact with NASA. According to KPCC science reporter Jacob Margolis, the rover’s final transmission “basically” translated as "my battery is low and it’s getting dark":


Of course, this isn't the literal last communication of Opportunity, because the Mars rover didn't communicate in English sentences. What NASA received was the equivalent of your phone's battery symbol showing 1%, telling the agency that Opportunity's battery was almost dead. They also received a report showing that the dust storm had so thickened the air that no light from the sun could get through. That means it had no way of recharging itself.

According to Wikipedia, the final communication from the rover indicated a solar array energy of 22 Wh, and the highest atmospheric opacity (tau) ever measured on Mars: 10.8. Still, "My battery is low and it's getting dark" sounds much more poetic. And sad.

Engineers in the Space Flight Operations Facility at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory hoped that the windy season would clear enough dust off the solar panels to allow it to restore contact, so in February 2019, JPL made their last attempt to revive Opportunity, but failed.

Happy trails, Opportunity.

What did you think of the Mars rover? Let us know in the comments!
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