“I declare the Opportunity mission is complete,” NASA official Thomas Zurbuchen said Wednesday of the U.S. Mars rover mission that outlasted its projected life span by more than 14 years.
The Opportunity rover succumbed to a Martian dust storm and lost contact with Earth nearly eight months ago. NASA finally gave up on it after more than 800 attempts to re-establish contact.
Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, said at a news conference at the space agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., that he shared the news “with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude.”
Opportunity was launched in 2003 and reached Mars a year later, close on the heels of its “twin,” a rover named Spirit. Both rovers, roughly the size of golf carts, were tasked with activities that would last about 90 days, but both far outlasted their original missions, spending years exploring the planet’s rocky terrain while using solar panels for engine power.
First to fall silent
Spirit got stuck in 2009 and stopped communicating with NASA a year later. It is believed to have shut down for good during the harsh Martian winter.
Opportunity continued to explore until last year when a dust storm consumed the entire planet and blocked communication with Earth.
NASA scientists said they had hoped the wind would eventually clear debris off Opportunity’s solar panels and allow it to power up and re-establish contact. But repeated attempts to reach the rover failed.
Late Tuesday, NASA scientists made one last try to reach it. By Wednesday, the agency announced the long mission was finally over.
“It was an incredibly somber moment,” NASA scientist Tanya Harrison told The New York Times.
At the end, the rover had covered a distance of 45.16 kilometers (28.06 miles) — a little longer than a marathon.
But NASA’s work on Mars continues. The rover Curiosity has been exploring another part of the planet since 2012.
Next year, two more rovers — one from China and one from a combined effort by Russia and the European Union — are expected to begin their own voyages to the Red Planet.