NASA About to Pull the Plug on Mars Opportunity Rover, Silent for 8 Months

The rover was quiet for eight weeks, victim of one of the very extreme dust storms in years. Thick dust darkened the sky last summer and, for weeks, blocked sunlight from the spacecraft’s solar panels.

NASA said Tuesday it will issue a last collection of recovery commands, along with more than 1,000 currently sent. If there’s no reply by Wednesday — that NASA suspects is going to be the case — Opportunity is going to be announced dead, 15 years later arriving at the red planet.

Team members are already looking back in Opportunity’s accomplishments, including affirmation water once flowed on Mars. Opportunity was, by far, the longest-lasting lander on Mars. Aside from endurance, the six-wheeled rover put a roaming listing of 28 miles (45 kilometres.)

Its identical twin, Spirit, was pronounced dead in 2011, a year later it got stuck in sand and communicating stopped.

Both outlived and outperformed expectations, on opposite sides of Mars. The golfing cart-size rovers were designed to operate as geologists for only 3 months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbour inside cushioning airbags in January 2004. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.

It’s no easier saying goodbye today to Opportunity, than it was to Spirit, project manager John Callas told The Associated Press.

“It’s exactly like a loved one who’s gone missing, and you keep holding out hope that they will show up and they’re healthy,” he explained. “But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you need to say’enough’ and then proceed with your life.”

Deputy job scientist Abigail Fraeman was a 16-year-old high school student when Opportunity landed on Mars; she was inside the control center as part of an outreach program. Inspired, Fraeman proceeded to become a planetary scientist, joined NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and ended up deputy project scientist for Opportunity.

“It gives you an idea how long this mission has continued,” she explained. “Opportunity’s just been a workhorse… it is really a testament, I think, to how well the mission was designed and how attentive the team was in working the vehicle.”

As opposed to viewing the dust storm as bad fortune, Callas considers it”good luck that we skirted numerous potential storms’ over recent years. Global dust storms normally kick up every few years, and”we’d gone a long time .” Unlike NASA’s nuclear-powered Curiosity rover still chugging along on Mars, Opportunity and Spirit were never designed to endure these severe weather.

Cornell University’s Steve Squyres, lead scientist for both Opportunity and Spirit, considers succumbing to some ferocious storm an”honorable way” for the mission to end.

“You might have lost a great deal of cash over the years gambling against Opportunity,” Squyres told the AP Tuesday.

The rovers’ best gift, according to Squyres, was supplying a geologic record in the two different areas where water once flowed on Mars, and describing the states there which may have affirmed potential ancient life.

NASA last heard from Opportunity on June 10. Flight controls attempted to wake the rover, inventing and sending command after command, month after month. Now it is getting colder and darker at Mars, further dimming prospects.

Engineers speculate that the rover’s inner clock might have become scrambled during the prolonged outage, disrupting the rover’s sleep cycle and draining on-board batteries. It’s particularly frustrating, based on Callas, not knowing exactly why Opportunity — or Spirit — neglected.

Now it is around Curiosity along with the newly arrived InSight lander to carry on the heritage, he noted, along with spacecraft in orbit around Mars.


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