The last rites have been administered and the concerned parties have said their goodbyes: NASA is pulling the plug on the Mars rover Opportunity.
The space agency said Wednesday that the mission for Opportunity was over 15 years after it landed on the Red Planet. The voyage was initially expected to last 90 days.
On Tuesday, NASA tried one last time to contact the spacecraft after more than 1,000 failed recovery commands in previous months – and failed.
“We’re celebrating with emotion. Science is an emotional affair,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “It’s a team sport, and that’s what we’re celebrating today. I will never forget the amazing work that happened here. It transformed our understanding of our planet.’’
Opportunity has not been heard from since June 10, when a massive dust storm that lasted months blocked the sunlight that provided the rover its power through solar panels. Flight controllers have been trying for months to reestablish contact, to no avail.
Unable to activate its battery-powered heaters, the robot was susceptible to the intense Martian cold and likely froze.
“It’s just like a loved one who’s gone missing, and you keep holding out hope that they will show up and that they’re healthy,” project manager John Callas said. “But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say ‘enough’ and move on with your life.”
Opportunity’s identical twin, Spirit, was pronounced dead in 2011, a year after it got stuck in sand and communication ceased.
Both outlived and outperformed expectations, on opposite sides of Mars. The golf cart-size rovers were designed to operate as geologists for just three months, after reaching Mars in January 2004. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.
Even before the last-ditch attempt to revive Opportunity, team members were eulogizing the long-lasting rover, which confirmed water once flowed in Mars and roamed for a record 28 miles.
“Opportunity’s just been a workhorse,’’ said deputy project scientist Abigail Fraeman, who as a student at 16 was inside the control center as part of an outreach program when the rover landed on Mars. “It’s really a testament, I think, to how well the mission was designed and how careful the team was in operating the vehicle.”
NASA has two other rovers, the nuclear-powered Curiosity and the newly arrived InSight, as well as spacecraft orbiting around Mars to carry on the mission of exploring the planet.
But Opportunity won’t be soon forgotten.
“It has given us a larger world,” Callas said. “Mars is now part of our neighborhood.”
Contributing: The Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mars Opportunity rover officially dead after 15 years, NASA declares