It’s Time to Say Goodbye to Our Beloved Mars Rover
The Opportunity Rover’s mission on Mars is coming to a close
When the Opportunity Rover — formally known as Mars Exploration Rover B — arrived on Mars on Jan. 25, 2004, it impacted the planet in a suit of giant airbags. The rover landed, bounced up 10 feet, slammed back down, and jumped another 22 feet before eventually settling on the surface for good. The airbags deflated, the enclosure opened up, and Opportunity slowly unfurled its wing-like solar panels to begin collecting the Martian sunlight it would need to survive.
Mission Control at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) was filled with cheers. “We’re on Mars, everybody!” yelled JPL’s Rob Manning. After the first color image was sent back to Earth, team member Steve Squyres declared that “Opportunity has touched down in a bizarre, alien landscape. I’m flabbergasted. I’m astonished. I’m blown away.”
The Opportunity Rover’s mission was planned to last only 90 days. But the rover survived long past its expected expiration. Fourteen years later, it was still sending NASA data from the red planet.
But in June 2018, the most severe Martian dust storm in recorded history covered Opportunity in darkness and prevented sunlight from reaching the solar-powered rover. As a result, Opportunity could no longer communicate with Earth. June 10, 2018, was the last day we heard from the rover. Its last photos were of the sun completely blacked out.
It’s expected that NASA will soon announce the end of the mission.
Since the rover’s calls to Earth stopped, team members, NASA employees, and fans of the mission have taken to social media to beg NASA not to give up on the rover. They shared stories about what the spacecraft has meant to them. Some met their spouses while working on the mission, and some pursued careers in engineering and science with the sole purpose of working with Opportunity — or “Oppy” as it’s colloquially referred to.