NASA's InSight lander to place heat flow probe on Mars

Eloise Marshall
February 13, 2019

A dust storm that swept the planet in May 2018 is suspected to have blocked the machine from receiving sun rays to charge its solar panels.

The official word on Opportunity's fate will be announced at 11 a.m. PT Wednesday when NASA broadcasts the briefing live via NASA TV and YouTube (which you can access by clicking the embed below).

Instead, the rover has persisted for 15 years, sending back incredible data and photos from Mars to help unravel the Red Planet's secrets. The golf cart-size rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning air bags in January 2004.

The rover reached Mars in 2004, but NASA lost contact with the vehicle a year ago following an epic dust storm that enveloped the red planet and prevented sunlight from reaching its surface.

No, I'm not crying over a Mars rover, YOU'RE crying. Besides endurance, the six-wheeled rover set a roaming record of 28 miles.

Opportunity was easily the longest-lasting lander on Mars, despite being created to last just 90 days, and also set a roaming record of 45 kilometres before coming to rest, somewhat fittingly, in Perseverance Valley.

"This is a hard day", said project manager John Callas.

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"Whatever loss we feel now must be tempered with the knowledge that the legacy of Opportunity continues - both on the surface of Mars with the Curiosity rover and InSight lander - and in the clean rooms of JPL (Jet Propulsion Laboratory), where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape".

"But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say "enough" and move on with your life". Global dust storms typically kick up every few years, and "we had gone a long time without one".

Opportunity and its long-dead twin rover, Spirit, found evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life.

Nasa wrote: 'The solar-powered rover last communicated with Earth on June 10, 2018, as a planet-wide dust storm was blanketing the Red Planet'. Unlike NASA's nuclear-powered Curiosity rover still chugging along on Mars, Opportunity and Spirit were never created to endure such severe weather.

The lead scientist on the Opportunity project, Cornell University's Steve Squyres, believes the rover has had "an honourable death".

When the sky finally cleared, the rover remained silent, its internal clock possibly so scrambled that it no longer knew when to sleep or wake up to receive commands.

"Mars is now part of our neighbourhood", he added.

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