On February 12, the Mars rover that was sent by NASA on July 7, 2003, died. One of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration, NASA's Opportunity rover mission comes to an end after almost 15 years of exploring the surface of Mars and helping lay the groundwork for NASA's return to the Red Planet.
"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Oppor
tunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," said NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "And when that day arrives, some portion of that first footprint will be owned by the men and women of Opportunity, and a little rover that defied the odds and did so much in the name of exploration."
Designed to last only 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards (3300), Opportunity surpassed all expectations because of its scientific value. In addition to passing its life expectancy, Opportunity traveled more than 28 miles by the time it reached its final resting spot on the Mars Perseverance Valley.
"For more than a decade, Opportunity has been an icon in the field of planetary exploration, teaching us about Mars' ancient past as a wet, potentially habitable planet, and revealing uncharted Martian landscapes," said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate. "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."
“We have made every reasonable engineering effort to try to recover Opportunity and have determined that the likelihood of receiving a signal is far too low to continue recovery efforts," said John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at JPL.
Although Opportunity will most likely not be found any time soon and is probably covered by three feet of dust, there is another rover on Mars. Curiosity is a car-sized rover designed to explore the crater Gale on Mars as part of NASA's Mars Science Laboratory mission. Curiosity was launched from Cape Canaveral on November 26, 2011, at 15:02 UTC and landed on Aeolis Palus inside Gale on Mars on August 6, 2012, 05:17 UTC. “The rover's goals include an investigation of the Martian climate and geology; assessment of whether the selected field site inside Gale has ever offered environmental conditions favorable for microbial life, including investigation of the role of water; and planetary habitability studies in preparation for human exploration.” On December 2012, Curiosity's two-year mission was extended , and on August 5, 2017, NASA celebrated the fifth anniversary of the Curiosity rover landing. The rover is still operational, and as of March 4, 2019, Curiosity has been on Mars for 2337 sols (2401 total days) since landing on August 6, 2012.
The recent passing of the Curiosity Mars rover is sad but it is not stopping NASA or anyone else from furthering their knowledge of our neighbor planet.