NASA rover finally bites the dust on Mars after 15 years

An illustration made available by NASA shows the rover Opportunity on the surface of Mars

NASA will hold a press conference at 2 p.m. ET today to discuss the results of recovery efforts since a dust storm encircled Mars previous year.

InSight landed safely on Mars on November 26, kicking off a two-year mission to explore the deep interior of the Red Planet.

"I have to tell you, this is an emotional time", he added.

NASA's Opportunity rover mission was one of the most successful and enduring feats of interplanetary exploration.

Opportunity set records on the Red Planet.

The golf cart-size Opportunity outlived its twin, the Spirit rover, by several years.

"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, where the upcoming Mars 2020 rover is taking shape". The golf-cart-sized rovers were created to operate as geologists for just three months, after bouncing onto our planetary neighbor inside cushioning airbags. They rocketed from Cape Canaveral a month apart in 2003.

Project manager John Callas said: "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".

"But each passing day that diminishes, and at some point you have to say enough and move on with your life."

NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine will be present, as well as the heads of NASA's planetary science and of Opportunity's rover program.

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The experience inspired her to pursue a career at JPL; Fraeman is now a deputy project scientist on the Mars exploration rover project, and works with Opportunity nearly daily.

"Opportunity's just been a workhorse ... it's really a testament, I think, to how well the mission was designed and how careful the team was in operating the vehicle".

Callas believes it is "good luck that we skirted so many possible storms" over the years.

Global dust storms typically kick up every few years, and "we had gone a long time without one", Mr Callas said.

Opportunity was created to last only 90 Martian days and travel 1,100 yards.

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

"You could have lost a lot of money over the years betting against Opportunity", Professor Squyres said.

Its greatest achievement was discovering, along with Spirit, evidence that ancient Mars had water flowing on its surface and might have been capable of sustaining microbial life.

Despite NASA engineers' best efforts to get a response via radio channels, its last communication was on June 10, 2018. Flight controllers sent more than 1,000 recovery commands to Opportunity, all in vain. Now it's getting colder and darker at Mars, further dimming prospects.

The storm may have scrambled the rover's internal clock, NASA explained on Wednesday, meaning that the rover would not know when to sleep, wake up, or receive commands.

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