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Unfortunately, all good things eventually come to an end, as Nelly Furtado famously declared. Today we say goodbye to one of the biggest leaps in human history. We bid a farewell to NASA’s Opportunity rover, abandoned and alone around 140 million miles (225 million kilometers) away from our planet.
In a series of tweets that have attracted attention, science reporter Jacob Margolis explained what happened and how the mission has come to an end. He first reported the sad prognosis on February 12, when the mission was still officially in progress. However, the grim reality of rover’s condition and the fact that no contact had been established for about 8 months gave no hope and it was unsurprising that on the 13th of February NASA announced that they are giving up efforts to restore communications with the rover and are officially ending the mission after more than 15 years.

On February 13, NASA announced that Mars rover Opportunity’s mission is over, 15 years after its start

Opportunity first started its (her) mission in 2004, as a part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program, alongside the twin rover Spirit. They had a set of objectives, including searching for rocks and minerals that would hold clues to past water activity. The objectives were mainly tied to trying to figure out if there ever was (or is) life on Mars. Even though neither Spirit (who stopped working back in 2010) nor Opportunity did not detect life, their findings provided important information on the habitability of the environment.
“It helped us confirm that different types of water existed on Mars, that the climate of the planet has changed greatly over time and that there’s a good chance it was once hospitable to life” Jacob Margolis told. Being a science reporter and working in South California where the biggest space projects are developed, Jacob uses every opportunity to talk to scientists to broaden his understanding of our universe. “One of the most harrowing moments of Oppy’s journey was in 2005 when it got stuck in sand. Scientists had to figure out how to get it out, so they ran tests at their facility in La Canada Flintridge, and a few months later they were able to free her” he explained one of the biggest challenges Oppy had to overcome in her journey.
The last update published on Opportunity’s official NASA page states that over 835 recovery commands have been sent to the rover, to no avail. In June of 2018, Opportunity encountered a sand storm that started affecting her, prompting the rover team to develop energy-saving plans for Oppy to try and conserve her energy to wait out the storm in hopes of better conditions. However, despite Opportunity sending a beep confirming she received the command to conserve energy, no contact has been made since then.

The Opportunity team stayed vigilant, despite the growing worries that Oppy was lost forever, and kept listening. The team put out updates on the blog, with titles like “Science Team Listens for Opportunity Everyday While She Sleeps” and “Attempting Contact With Opportunity Multiple Times A Day” showing just how much time and energy the team spent attempting to contact the rover on Mars. It was no wonder that the team stayed hopeful for so long, after all, Opportunity was first destined to function for only about 90 days, yet she exceeded that plan 55 times, exploring Mars’ terrain for over 15 years.
However, more than 8 months later after the last transmission, with the storm passing and Oppy making no contact, the team had to give up. And not only the people who worked on this project for years were devastated. After the news broke, people on the internet, all over the world, mourned Opportunity. “I got a call from JPL letting me know that Oppy was likely done for and I, like everyone else, was sad,” Margolis explained. “Knowing that the end was a possibility (we were waiting for confirmation), I interviewed key scientists, did an interview with NPR and put together a thread that I hoped would resonate with people who might have similar feelings as me about this extraordinary robot” Jacob elaborated on why he started the tweet series.

As of June, 2018, Opportunity has traveled 45.16 kilometers (28.06 miles), took over 217,000 images, examined Mars’ soil and rock structures, providing the scientists with substantial information on water activity on the planet, and more. “It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars,” said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. “And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration.”
The official Opportunity and Spirit Twitter account has posted a heart-wrenching but hopeful message as the team said goodbye to their little rover. Another Mars rover Curiosity’s account also had a message for the lost Oppy. It was a poem styled after Elton John’s “Candle in the Wind” and served as a “thank you” from a “younger” rover to its predecessor. People all over the world also responded, with words and tributes, expressing both, their sorrow and gratitude.

While the mission ending might put sadness in our hearts, from a scientific or purely emotional perspective, Opportunity should be celebrated for its achievements against all odds. Oppy serves as a stellar reminder that humans are capable of so much, with the rover team working vigilantly, scientists beating challenges and obstacles that were placed before them millions of miles away, as well as human empathy that has no limits. And of course, we should say a big ‘thank you’ to the little selfie-snapping, Mars-crawling, rock-collecting robot that paved the path for humans to one day walk on the red planet.

Watch Opportunity’s journey from start to finish here

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