Here’s why NASA just pronounced its famed Mars rover to be dead

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

"And our beloved Opportunity remains silent", Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, told a news conference Wednesday afternoon. "It is therefore that I'm standing here with a sense of deep appreciation and gratitude that I declare the Opportunity mission as complete".

"Spirit and Opportunity may be gone, but they leave us a legacy - and that's a legacy of a new paradigm for solar system exploration", Michael Watkins, the director of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said Wednesday. "Science is an emotional affair, it's a team sport", he said. "I will never forget the unbelievable work that happened here". The findings will advance understanding of how all rocky planets, including Earth, formed and evolved. "We came to that point".

It covered 28 miles in its working lifespan -more than any other rover ever placed on the Red Planet, and confirmed scientists' theories that water had once flowed on Mars.

Opportunity, along with its sister robot, Spirit, landed on Mars in 2004, for a mission that was initially expected to last 90 Martian days.

Its identical twin, Spirit, was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased. Unfortunately, a global dust storm that started in June 2018 was too much for the aging rover, which lost power early in the storm.

The agency held a news conference to detail the results of recovery efforts since a dust storm encircled Mars past year. But this time, the storm was worse and the opacity of the atmosphere climbed to unprecedented levels.

"Opportunity" has not made a peep since 10 June.

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our courageous astronauts walk on the surface of Mars", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said, according to an announcement on the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's website. Odyssey and MRO look for seasonal deposits of water on Mars, while InSight will study underground, looking for potential signs of unexpected heat and seismic activity that could show that Mars is still alive.

"Today we get to celebrate the end of this mission", said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine. He added: "It comes time to say goodbye". The golf cart-size rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning air bags in January 2004. But 14-and-a-half years later, and 45 kilometers of odometry, we've done phenomenal things.

The rovers used a variety of instruments in this quest, including three different spectrometers, a panoramic camera and the high-resolution Microscopic Imager, which delivered magnifying-glass-like views of Red Planet rock and dirt.

Some in the Martian exploration community criticized NASA for its plan to rouse the rover.

Opportunity landed on Mars in January 2004, a few weeks after its rover twin Spirit, which ended its mission in 2010.

Team members are already looking back at Opportunity's achievements, including confirmation water once flowed on Mars. Three of those are in orbit around the planet.

The six-wheeled vehicle that helped gather critical evidence that ancient Mars might have been hospitable to life was remarkably spry up until eight months ago, when it was finally doomed by a ferocious dust storm. The space agency is developing another Curiosity-class rover for launch in 2020.