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NASA officially says goodbye to its Mars rover, Opportunity

14 February 2019

USA space agency NASA will make one final attempt to contact its Opportunity Rover on Mars late Tuesday, eight months after it last made contact.

Opportunity was only supposed to stay on Mars for 90 days, but has now lasted an astounding 14 years.

Opportunity traveled roughly 28 miles before an intense dust storm on June 10, 2018 sent the rover into hibernation. "Our beloved Opportunity remains silent", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, NASA Headquarters, during the conference.

Opportunity started out in Eagle crater where it discovered hematite "blueberries", the first strong evidence for water on ancient Mars.

The agency held a news conference to detail the results of recovery efforts since a dust storm encircled Mars previous year.

Spirit and Opportunity landed a few weeks apart, in different Red Planet locales.

NASA's Mars Opportunity rover had quite the ride.

The craft, which arrived at the Red Planet in July 2004, has been out of communication since last summer.

So while today may be an official goodbye to Opportunity, it lives on in its legacy that informs our exploration of Mars every day.

"We tried valiantly over these last eight months to try to recover the rover, to get some signal from it. It's a team sport, and that's what we're celebrating today", Zurbuchen said.

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While some NASA spacecraft have endured for longer than 15 years, those are orbiter or flyby missions-they're not encountering the sheer number of hazards Opportunity did on the ground.

Mars 2020 project system engineer Jennifer Trosper, left, points to a replica of the Mars Exploration Rover Opportunity on 13/2/19.

The community of researchers and engineers involved in the programme were in mourning over the passing of the rover, known affectionately as Oppy.

Perseverance Valley is a fitting final resting spot for the spacecraft, which was originally expected to conduct science for just 90 days.

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

You may be interested to know that Opportunity was powered by VxWorks on a 20MHz IBM RAD6000 CPU - a RISC Single Chip based on Big Blue's POWER1 architecture - with 128MB of RAM, 256MB of flash memory, and 3MB of EEPROM storage.

Also, this highlight reel from Opportunity's career quietly appeared online Tuesday with a description that includes an bad lot of talk about the rover in the past tense. "But if you look to its ancient past, you find compelling evidence for liquid water below the surface and liquid water at the surface".

"With a mobile vehicle - a vehicle able to climb mountains and descend into craters and see these gorgeous, spectacular vistas - it really changes Mars into a place that seems like a real destination", Squyres told Space.com.

Three more landers - from the U.S., China and Europe - are due to launch next year. The rover's batteries were in good health prior to the dust storm, and the surface temperature was relatively warm when the storm began. Two of them are still working: Curiosity (which landed in 2012) and InSight (which only landed recently).

If the machine does not respond, Nasa will declare the rover dead.

NASA officially says goodbye to its Mars rover, Opportunity