On January 24, 2004, the rover Opportunity returned its first signal of the red planet. This marked the beginning of a 90-day planned mission for the size rover of a six-wheeled golf cart. Fifteen years later, the rover's mission is finally over, NASA announced today.
Its longevity and discoveries testify to the design and construction of Opportunity. The rover eventually returned over 200,000 raw footage and traveled a total of 45 km, further than a standard marathon and a realization to which his mission planners were not expecting.
Beyond design performances, Opportunity's discoveries helped researchers reconstruct Mars's wet past, increasing the possibility that microbial life might have survived on its former surface.
Scott Maxwell, the former engine planner for Spirit and Opportunity, told Opportunity and his twin, Spirit, " Discover. "They were our eyes and ears, our bodies of distant robots."
But on June 10, 2018, after surviving Spirit for eight years, Opportunity fell silent under the veil of a dust storm that surrounded the planet. On 6 February, NASA reported that more than 835 recovery orders had been sent to mobile over a range of frequencies, including those outside its normal communication range. None had been answered. According to the mission's website, this was the team's "last resort strategy".
Today at a press conference at 11 o'clock. PST, NASA announced the completion of the Mars Exploration Rover mission. "Our beloved opportunity remains silent," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate director of the Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters at the conference. Zurbuchen was present Tuesday night during the last planned attempt to reach the rover Tuesday night, asking the latter to respond. But no answer came, which prompted NASA to conclude that she remains asleep and that her mission can now be honored as a resounding success.
"Today we are celebrating the end of this mission," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. He went on to say that scientists will benefit for years from data collected during Opportunity's 14 years on the Red Planet.
What killed Opportunity?
As of January 24, Opportunity – with an original 90-day mission plan covering only about 1,100 yards (1 km) – had reached the last 15 years on Mars. The rover had long surpassed its initial three-month warranty period, as did its twin, Spirit, which had fallen silent in 2010 from a NASA named "Troy" location on the west side of the plateau. from Home Plate. Spirit, who was damaged by a wheel, found himself stuck in Troy and could not get enough sunshine during the next Martian winter, similarly suffering a lack of power and damage from cold.
At the beginning of last June, the location of the rover in Perseverance Valley on the western edge of Endeavor Crater was engulfed by a growing dust storm. This storm has darkened the sky of the red planet with dust and sun. The opportunity, which depended on sunlight to recharge his batteries and keep his electronics warm, fell asleep as a protective measure against the prolonged night time. But even after the sky started to clear in early August, the rover slept.
On September 11, the atmosphere above the vehicle's location was clear enough for the sun's rays to reach its panels sufficiently, provided they were relatively free of dust. NASA thought it would be the best window of time to get a response from the rover.
Throughout this period, NASA's Deep Space network continued to transmit commands to the rover, which was likely suffering from a number of "faults" due to prolonged lack of sunlight. By systematically interrogating the mobile during scheduled recovery periods and at other random intervals, the engineers had hoped to seize Opportunity during a waking period.
But after the last planned attempt, NASA now concluded that Opportunity would remain silent and motionless at its final location.
The end of the mission
"There is probably no better way for her to leave than during the biggest dust storm we've ever seen on Mars. For her, I would expect nothing less. Now she can rest under a thin layer of dust, knowing that she is proud of humanity, "said Tanya Harrison, director of research for Space Technology and Science Initiative in Arizona State University and collaborator of the scientific team on Opportunity. Astronomy.
"The spirit and the opportunities may have gone, but they leave us a legacy," said Mike Watkins, director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, at the press conference. The Mars Explorers, he added, "have raised public awareness of the spirit of Mars's robotic exploration." Their legacy, he said, will continue with the enthusiasm and support not only of Curiosity, which is currently exploring Mars, but of the upcoming Mars 2020 mission as well.