NASA’s Opportunity Rover Declared Dead after 15 Years

Paige Schneider

The Opportunity Rover, which landed on Mar’s surface on January 25th, 2004, has been declared dead by NASA. This happened on Wednesday, February 13th, 2019, meaning that Opportunity had been on the planet for nearly 15 years. That makes it the longest a robot sent from Earth has been on another planet, ever. What’s even more amazing was that the machine was originally designed for meerly 3 months on the planet, but it remained functional for more than 5000 martian days, precisely 5152 Earth days.

However, Opportunity wasn’t the first rover on Mars. It landed just three weeks after its twin, Spirit, on the opposite side of the planet. Spirit lasted much longer than predicted as well, having lasted six years. It went offline and fell out of contact in 2010. Currently, the Curiosity rover is still operational on Mar’s surface, and NASA also plans on launching another rover in 2020.

Even though the rover was pronounced dead Wednesday, it had been offline for months. In June of 2018 a giant dust storm overtook the machine, and without the open sky, it wasn’t able to pull enough energy from its solar panels. Opportunity went offline, though NASA hoped it would recover once the dust dispersed. It never did, and NASA is still unaware of the exact cause. It is believed that the dust caked over the solar panels, and because Mar’s windy season had ended, they were unable to clear. Another prediction is that an essential electric component broke down during the storm. At first, NASA announced that it would only spend a month trying to reconnect to Opportunity, but after heavy public backlash saying they weren’t giving the rover a real chance, they extended the waiting period. Unfortunately, Opportunity never came back online.

Without the twin rovers, NASA never would have seen the Mar’s details. They revealed that Mar’s surface was made up of finely layered rocks which had preserved ripples of flowing water. Without the rovers, we would’ve been unaware that a few billion years ago, Mars would have been able to support life.

Although the rover had overlived its predicted life span by an extreme amount, it’s still sad to see it go. Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for science says, “It is therefore that I am standing here with a deep sense of appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission is complete.”