RIP Opportunity, the Little Mars Rover That Could

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars Credit NASA

The rover is feared to have been killed in a dust storm which engulfed the whole of Mars in June past year.

The same thing happened when Opportunity's twin, Spirit, became mired in soft soil in 2009 and its five working wheels couldn't free it. NASA held a "service" to commemorate the end of the mission in May 2011.

Nasa's Mars rover could be declared dead in a matter of hours after an unexpectedly long career roaming the planet.

The six-wheeled vehicle was built to operate just three months.

This evening, Nasa will make one last attempt to communicate with Opportunity, before revealing its findings at a press conference starting at 6pm United Kingdom time tomorrow.

"You could have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Opportunity", Professor Squyres said.

In the end, Opportunity set endurance and distance records that are years, if not decades, from being broken.

On Jan. 6, 2005, the Opportunity rover found a basketball-size meteorite on Mars - the first meteorite ever discovered on another planet.

Since the storm, Nasa has tried to contact the machine through recovery commands 1,000 times.

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This illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.

"This is a hard day", said project manager John Callas.

"But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say "enough" and move on with your life".

"This is a celebration of so many achievements", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told team members gathered at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, for what amounted to a wake for the intrepid rover. Global dust storms typically kick up every few years, and "we had gone a long time without one".

The rovers' greatest gift, according to Squyres, was providing a geologic record at two distinct places where water once flowed on Mars, and describing the conditions there that may have supported possible ancient life. This will mark the end of a almost 15-year mission on Mars for the rover.

Despite NASA engineers' best efforts to get a response via radio channels, its last communication was on June 10, 2018. The storm was so intense that it darkened the sky for months, preventing sunlight from reaching the rover's solar panels.

Now it's up to Curiosity and the newly arrived InSight lander to carry on the legacy, he noted, along with spacecraft in orbit around Mars.

"[Opportunity] has given us a larger world", Dr Callas said. "Mars is now part of our neighborhood".

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