Is the Mars Rover really dead?

NASA gives up "Opportunity": The Mars rover has died

The robot "Opportunity" researched on Mars for over 15 years. Now NASA ended the project because the probe could no longer communicate. It is the end of a great success story.

It is seldom that NASA employees express themselves emotionally about a robot: "There was silence. There were tears. There were hugs. We shared the memories." This is what Tanya Harrison, who helped develop the "Opportunity" robot, writes about the last attempt to contact him. Now "Opportunity" has stopped the service. With this, NASA is burying one of its most successful projects.

It had started promisingly: On the morning of January 25, 2004, "Opportunity" landed in a small crater on Mars. The rover was sent by NASA to investigate possible water occurrences on the planet. "Opportunity" set off on various expeditions from the crater. The rover worked its way over the stony ground of the planet with six wheels and provided valuable information about the nature of Mars. In total, "Opportunity" only covered a distance of 45 kilometers in the 15 years. Nevertheless, this is the furthest distance that has ever been covered by a robot on an alien celestial body.

Space Mars Rover (Source: AP / dpa)

It was originally planned that the mission would end after 90 Mars days (equivalent to about 92 Earth days). But “Oppertunity” persevered. And so its mission was extended year after year, while the space probe continued to research: Equipped with various cameras, "Opportunity" cleaned rock surfaces with great accuracy, carried out smaller drillings, always looking for water flows and possible deposits of liquid.

At NASA the probe is called "the robot geologist" and is affectionately called "Oppy". But a dust storm in June 2018 was the death sentence for him. The rover had still - as it was intended - put itself into a kind of hibernation. But he didn't wake up from that: dark clouds swept over Mars, enveloping the robot, whose solar cells could no longer catch sunlight. Then the batteries ran out of energy: the robot had not sent any signals to NASA since June 10, 2018.

On Wednesday evening at 8 p.m. German time, NASA held a press conference and officially announced the end of the mission. The "Mars Research" project is not over with the death of "Opportunity": The two robots "Curiosity" (since 2011) and "InSight" (since 2018 on Mars) will continue to research, and they are with NASA probably another mission planned for 2020. And so, after the sad farewell to "Oppy", there will again be reason for the Nasa employees to be happy.