NASA said its goodbyes to the nearly 15-year-old Mars Opportunity rover Wednesday after a final attempt to make contact on Tuesday night was unsuccessful.
“I learned this morning that we had not heard back and our beloved Opportunity remains silent,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, speaking from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California. “It is therefore that I’m standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude, that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete.”
“Science is an emotional affair. It’s a team sport, and that’s what we’re celebrating today,” Zurbuchen continued, adding that the Mars Exploration mission “transformed our understanding of our planet.”
“Everything we do and think about in our planetary neighborhood with Mars and elsewhere, relates to the research that came from [the Mars Exploration mission], and the engineering breakthroughs that came from that,” he said.
A dust storm covered roughly a quarter of the planet in June, forcing Opportunity to go into a low-power mode meant to conserve energy until skies clear and its solar panels could once again charge. Despite this conservative state, it appears Opportunity was unable to recover. The last time NASA heard from Opportunity was June 10.
While Wednesday’s announcement is certainly a sad goodbye, Opportunity achieved much more than NASA ever expected. The robot was designed for a short mission, but ended up spending years helping examine meteorites and discover traces of ancient acidic lakes.
“When this little rover landed, the objective was to have it be able to move 1100 yards and survive for 90 days on Mars,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And instead, here we are 14 years later, after 28 miles of travel, and today we get to celebrate the end of this mission.”
When Opportunity landed on Mars in 2004, it was accompanied by another robot, Spirit. Spirit stopped communicating in 2010, possibly due to a stuck wheel that left the rover in a position difficult for its solar panels to charge.
The two robots of the Mars Exploration mission are survived by the Curiosity Rover, which has been exploring Mars since 2012 researching the planet’s habitability, and the InSight Lander, which touched down just last year to investigate Mars’ formation.