His mission was to last only ninety days. It finally lasted fifteen years and confirmed that water had once sank on Mars.
He had been riding valiantly on Mars since 2004. The Opportunity robot, which confirmed that water once ran there, was declared dead by NASA on Wednesday, February 13th. "I declare Mission Opportunity complete"NASA scientist Thomas Zurbuchen told a news conference in Pasadena, California. This announcement marks the official end of one of the most successful missions in the history of solar system exploration.
The contact was lost since June 10, 2018, when a dust storm engulfed the Red Planet, darkened the atmosphere for several months and prevented the rover from recharging his batteries. After eight months and hundreds of messages sent from Earth unanswered, NASA announced that the final attempt took place Tuesday night. The community of researchers and engineers involved in the program seemed to have mourned the mythical rover.
"Have spent the evening at the JPL for the latest orders sent to the Rover Opportunity on Mars. It was silent. We cried. We kissed each other. We shared memories and laughter », tweeted Tanya Harrison, research director at Arizona State University and program collaborator at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Los Angeles. "Good wind, Opportunity", wrote Keri Bean, who had " the privilege " to send the final message to the robot on the evening of Tuesday. "Greet the Queen of Mars"tweeted Mike Seibert, a former Opportunity pilot.
217,594 images sent
Opportunity's record is extraordinary in the history of planetary exploration: 45.16 kilometers traveled, more than the Soviet lunokhod 2 rover on the moon in the 1970s and more than the rover led by US mission astronauts Apollo 17 on the Moon in 1972 (35 km). Opportunity also sent 217,594 images to Earth, all available on the Internet.
"For the general public, Mars has become this dynamic place that you can explore every day"says Emily Lakdawalla, an expert in space exploration, who writes for the Planetary Society. "The rover was so mobile that he seemed to be an animated creature"she continues. "He had this almost human perspective on the surface of Mars, his eyes were spread like human eyes, at a height of about 1.50 meters above the ground, like humans. It was like an avatar of humanity traveling on the surface. "
Opportunity had landed on a great plain where he spent half of his life, crossing miles of flat and even stuck for a few weeks in a sand dune. This is where the robot, with its geology instruments, confirmed that liquid water had once been found on Mars.
Only a robot remains active on Mars
The second part of his life, he climbed the flanks of Endeavor crater, taking spectacular panoramic shots … and discovering veins of gypsum, new proof that water was flowing between these rocks. His twin, Spirit, landed three weeks before him and died in 2010. Both largely fulfilled the expectations of their designers: their missions theoretically had to last ninety days, times often exceeded but rarely of as …
Only one rover remains active on Mars, also American: Curiosity, which landed in 2012. He is not dependent on the Sun, because his energy comes from a small nuclear reactor. In 2021, it will be joined, on another site of the planet, by the robot recently baptized Rosalind Franklin, within the framework of the European-Russian mission ExoMars.