Photo via NASA under Creative Commons license
On January 4th, 2004, The Opportunity rover touched down on the surface of the Meridiani Planum region of Mars. The mission was simple, a 90-day mission on Mars to photograph as much as possible, take soil samples, and look for signs of past water activity. The 90-day expedition then turned into a 15-year exploration of the surface of Mars, changing what scientists knew about life on Mars forever. However, on February 13th, 2019, NASA officials finally declared Opportunity’s mission complete. This was after a severe dust storm overtook the rover causing her to lose connection, and after thousands of failed attempts to regain the connection. She was heavily mourned by the scientific community and remembered for all she accomplished.
You can view the full journey of Opportunity at:
Set a one-day driving record, traveling 721 meters (March 20, 2005)
Found Hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at her landing site
Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas
Discovered strong indications of water at Endeavor Crater, similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth
Sending back photographic evidence of an ancient Hydrothermal system: Showing that water had once interacted with magma
Showing “Dust Devil” frequency and dynamics: how dust and sand are moved by the wind in the thin Martian atmosphere
Struggles along the way:
Although Opportunity made many great accomplishments and had a profound impact on the scientific community, it wasn’t without her setbacks. In the winter of 2005, Opportunity lost the steering in one of her front wheels, halting her expedition for multiple days. In the same year, Opportunity lost a critical heating element severely limiting her power, as well as enduring a Martian sand ripple almost trapping her underground for good. Two years later, a two-month long dust storm trapped the rover and rendered it unable to move. And then again in 2017, Opportunity lost the use of its 256-megabyte flash memory, as well as its other front wheel. Every single time that Opportunity faced a challenge, her team of scientists here on Earth worked tirelessly to correct it as soon as possible. However, due to the most recent dust storm that took place in the Summer of 2018, it proved too much for her, ending her 15-year run.
A sendoff for a hero:
After the dust storm depleted Opportunity’s batteries to an unsustainable level, NASA scientists lost all contact with the rover. And after sending over 1,000 messages, in the hopes of reestablishing a connection, NASA scientists began to prepare for the worst. They began sending songs to the rover, in the hopes of eliciting a response. These songs included “Life on Mars?” by David Bowie; “I will Survive” by Gloria Gaynor; and “I’ll be Seeing You” by Billie Holiday. “I’ll be Seeing You” is now known as Opportunity’s song, as it was the last communication that she would ever receive. With the heartfelt, and soulful voice of Billy Holiday singing, “I’ll find you in the morning sun/And when the night is new/I’ll be looking at the moon/But I’ll be seeing you.”
The rover did send the last image of the barren tundra of Mars cloaked in dust, with bits of bursts and bytes, stating that her power was running low. This has been poetically translated into “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”
All should hope for such a gentle end to such a useful life.