Nasa's opportunity rover is officially dead, the space agency said after disappearing in a dust storm on Mars.
Clearly emotional Nasa employees facing a life-sized replica of the Rover said they had heard nothing of the Rover and the mission would come to an end. The scientists described the difficult process of saying goodbye to the Rover they had called Oppy and described it as a popular family member.
"I stand here with deep thanks and gratitude," said Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa's Chief Administrator, before announcing that the Opportunity Mission is now complete.
To join Independent heads
For exclusive articles, events and an ad-free reading for only 5,99 € 6,99 € $ 9.99
Get the best The Independent
With an Independent Minds subscription for only 5,99 € 6,99 € $ 9.99
Get the best The Independent
Without advertising – only for 5,99 € 6,99 € $ 9.99
The robot set a huge number of records as it traveled across the surface of Mars, eventually traveling about 28 miles and taking much longer than any other Mars lander. It discovered that water once flowed on the planet and enlightened the world with the possibility that it would once have been able to sustain life.
But in June, after sending messages to NASA stating that it was getting dark and the batteries exhausted, the Rover stopped. A massive dust storm had covered the entire planet, and it is believed that it obscured the solar panels, which provided Opportunity with its energy, causing them to be shut down.
NASA has sent over 1,000 messages to wake up the rover and get it up and running again. The last attempt, however, was sent on Tuesday evening and remained unanswered. The space agency had to declare the rover dead.
This ended 15 years exploring the red planet. The opportunity came in early 2004 along with an identical twin named Spirit for a mission that would only take three months and cover only 1,000 meters.
NASA last heard about Opportunity on June 10th. The air traffic controllers kept trying to send messages to wake up the rover, but even if the dust storm had subsided and sunlight had come through, he received no answer.
The historic final message was sent from the 70-meter antenna of the Mars Station of NASA's Goldstone Deep Space Complex in California. That was the end of eight months when engineers said they would try everything to wake the rover up again.
"We have made every reasonable technical effort to regain Opportunity and have found that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue the recovery efforts," said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover project in the jet Propulsion Laboratory of Nasa.
The scientists had always expected that the rovers would be killed by the dust on Mars, but thought that this would happen in a few months. Instead, they found that the wind on the planet swept away the dust as it accumulated, which helped clear the rover and let it stop for much longer than expected.
Engineers say the internal clock could be blocked by the long outage, which means that the rover has woken up at the wrong time and the batteries are dead. Opportunity had to go to a deep sleep every night to make sure the batteries kept up enough energy-but the interruption probably meant she lost track of time, forgetting when to sleep.
Mars is now prepared for an extended cold angle that is likely to destroy the components driving the opportunity forever. It is unlikely that scientists will ever know why Opportunity and Spirit died.
Opportunity's death means that curiosity is the only working rover on the surface of the planet. Many more are expected – the ExoMars Rover for example, an international project looking for signs of life – with two new robots that will arrive next year.
Engineers and scientists said Spirit and Opportunity would live in the heritage they leave behind for the Rover and Orbiter, who will explore the mysterious soil of the planet that Opportunity has spent so much time exploring.
"Opportunity has been an iconic planet explorer for more than a decade, teaching us about the past of Mars as a wet, potentially habitable planet, revealing unexplored Martian landscapes," Zurbuchen said in a statement. "What loss we are feeling now must be mitigated with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity persists – both on the Mars surface with the Curiosity Rover and the InSight Lander – and in the clean rooms of JPL, where the upcoming Mars 2020 Rover takes shape. "
Opportunity will now be located on the edge of the Perserverance Valley, one of the many craters, hills and other geological features the Rover explored during its record-breaking surface journey.
"I can not imagine a better place to endure Opportunity on the Martian surface than a place called the Perseverance Valley," said Michael Watkins, director of JPL. "The records, discoveries, and sheer perseverance of this intrepid little rover testify to the ingenuity, dedication, and perseverance of the people who built and guided them."