Opportunity, NASA's popular Mars rover, was officially allowed to rest for more than seven months after it was struck by a giant dust storm and fell silent.
The planetary storm of sand and debris in June was particularly strong, leaving Opportunity's solar panels with material. Poor Rover was unable to awaken from the electronic coma and was not dependent on radio commands.
"I declare the opportunity rover mission completed," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA, on Wednesday at a news conference.
Built for 90 sols, a neat word for Mars solar days, the valiant, instrument-studded bot sacked 5,351 sols or about 15 Earth years ago.
Opportunity was part of NASA's larger Mars Exploration Rover mission, and was launched in 2004 along with its twin rover Spirit, which carried parts of the World Trade Center. Spirit died in 2010 when he was stuck in a sand trap and unable to recharge his batteries. Zurbuchen thanked the hundreds of scientists and engineers for having worked on the mission for almost two decades. "Science is an emotional thing, it's a team sport," he said.
Opportunity was traveling five centimeters a second (0.1 miles per hour), covering 28 miles of the Mars area in its time, and glancing at many of the Red Planet's impact craters.
It first landed on the Eagle Crater, a 22-meter-long ditch, and found tiny spherical shapes called "blueberries" – hematite. The mineral, a form of iron oxide, can only be formed in solution. So it was a promising sign that the crater was once filled with liquid.
Next, it turned to the Endurance Crater to discover strange bedrocks arranged in straight parallel lines. It staggered near the sand dunes, but dared not enter it for fear of being bogged down. In fact, he once got stuck when he was trying to surf on sand, and the NASA engineers killed him and accelerated hard to drive him out of his misery.
Opportunity was called an "overachiever". He managed to survive his life expectancy both by accident and by engineers. John Callas, Project Manager of the Mars Exploration Rover Project, said, "We thought the dust would fall from the air, choke the air after 90 days, but the wind came unexpectedly and blew it off so we could explore further. "
He also said that he was equipped with the "best solar system batteries" that went through 5,000 charge and discharge cycles to "penetrate the coldest and darkest parts of Mars." Every night he would switch to deep sleep mode and everything would be turned off, including the heaters. However, the Rover could only keep it warm enough to recharge its batteries in the morning.
You may be interested to know that VxWorks Opportunity runs on a 20MHz IBM RAD6000 CPU – a RISC single chip based on Big Blue's POWER1 architecture – with 128MB of RAM, 256MB of flash memory and 3 MB EEPROM memory is equipped. This radiation-resistant system consisted of the solar cells and two rechargeable 8A lithium batteries, each consisting of eight cells.
NASA will send a small helicopter to Mars
The machines have changed our understanding of Mars. Steve Squyres, a professor at Cornell University in the US who studies the history of water on the Red Planet, describes Mars as a "dry, desolate world."
"It's a place where not much happens. In the past, though, it was a violent, hot, steamy place with effects, "he said. We saw profound evidence of hydrothermal events. It had hot springs and was probably suitable for very robust microbes. It was a place that was habitable. "
NASA plans to send more rovers to Mars, and some may even end up as robo comrades with human explorers when they appear. In the second phase of the Space Exploration Mission's Mars Exploration Rover mission, an improved rover will be deployed on the Red Planet Mars 2020 equipped with a practical drill to collect samples from the surface.
"The goal is to discover life in another world, that's what we want to achieve," said Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator.
Finally, we must not forget that the twin rover Opportunity and Spirit also had a naughty side. The couple engraved something that looked like a penis on the Martian surface as they rolled happily. ®