LIFE

NASA declares Mars rover Opportunity dead after 15 years on the red planet

NASA on Wednesday declared that the Mars rover Opportunity is definitely out of commission, officially closing an intrepid 15-year mission that confirmed that water once flowed on the red planet.

NASA's Opportunity, the Mars rover that was built to operate for just three months but kept going and going, rolling across the rocky red soil, was pronounced dead Wednesday, 15 years after it landed on the planet.

The space agency made the announcement Wednesday after unsuccessfully attempting to contact the rover over 1,000 times.

"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," John Callas, manager of the Mars Exploration Rover (MER) project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in a statement.

Opportunity had traversed Mars' red surface as it climbed across crags and massive craters, sending back images of never-before-seen phenomena, including towering dust devils and rippled Martian sand that resembled an ocean bathed in dusk's light.

In all, Opportunity sent back over 217,000 images.

But a vicious dust storm that blanketed the red planet eight months ago spelled the beginning of the end for the six-wheeled vehicle. Its last transmission to Earth was received June 10 as the storm ramped up. NASA engineers continued to attempt to contact the rover, but the months-long storm prevented Opportunity's solar panels from recharging.

Opportunity was one of two rovers that landed in Mars' Meridiani Planum region in January 2004 after a seven-month space flight. The other vehicle, the Spirit rover, lasted six years until it drove into soil too soft to exit.

In addition to capturing scenes the likes of which humankind has only dreamed of, Opportunity stands as the record holder for the longest off-world drive, traveling roughly 28.06 miles (45.16 kilometers).

"It is because of trailblazing missions such as Opportunity that there will come a day when our brave astronauts walk on the surface of Mars," NASA chief Jim Bridenstine said. "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."

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