By: Nick Swafford
You may have heard of the sudden uproar in the media about one of NASA’s rovers, Opportunity, dying and everyone freaking out in response. You may have even heard of the “last words” from the rover, “My battery is low, and it’s getting dark.” Oh how I wish that was the actual message sent by Opportunity, but sadly it isn’t. Much to everyone’s surprise, the rover did not speak back to us in such a moving fashion. Instead it sent back data that its batteries were running low and that sunlight was becoming minimal. It was actually a NASA employee that changed that data into the emotional quote.
Such a disappointment to the guy that got a tattoo of what he thought to be Opportunity with that quote to back it up. I wonder how fast his face drained when he realized he accidentally got the Curiosity rover tattooed instead of Opportunity. If you’re curious, you can find that tattoo here.
On February 13th, NASA released a statement declaring Opportunity, their Mars rover, officially dead.
The rover had been wandering the Martian surface in search of anything it could find for a little over 15 years. It was originally sent out into space on July 7th, 2003 at Cape Canaveral, Florida along with its twin rover, Spirit. Opportunity touched down on January 5th, 2004 in the Meridiani Planum, a very flat plain on Martian soil that was targeted by NASA for its many minerals that could give information on Mars’ watery past. It arrived on Mars two weeks after its twin and set to work almost immediately. Opportunity’s mission was planned to last only 90 Martian days or sols—about 92 days on Earth. As previously mentioned, however, this 408-pound champion lasted 5,352 sols, or about 5,500 Earth days. What an accomplishment by not only the rover but the teams at NASA that kept the robot operational for so long. Compared to Spirit, its twin, Opportunity did phenomenally well. Spirit lasted only about 2,270 Earth days, almost 3,000 days less than Opportunity, but it still did astoundingly well for a supposed 92-day mission.
The rover accomplished many things during its functional timeframe, not only looking into one particular subject, but many different areas of interest. It carried out its main focus of collecting rock and soil samples in an attempt to further develop NASA’s research on Mars’ history with water. Opportunity didn’t just stop there; however, NASA saw the opportunity (pun intended) to use the rover to take several photos and conduct other research as well, such as atmospheric data and astronomical observations.
The rover was well-travelled on Mars as well. By the time in June 2018 when NASA initially lost contact to Opportunity because of a heavy dust storm, it had gone a total of 45.16 kilometers, or about 28 miles, in its lifetime. That may not seem like much to you and me, but taking into consideration that the rover has a blazing top speed of five centimeters a second, those 28 miles seem a little bigger. Not to mention the amount of time it takes to stop and get soil and rock samples that probably dragged it down. All in all, the rover did an outstanding job.
If we want to play some Clue here, it was the dust storm on Mars with the sand that ultimately murdered the robot. NASA never regained contact to the rover–even after trying for months on end and sending 835 recovery commands, the connection couldn’t be reestablished. And so, NASA finally threw in the towel on February 13th, pronouncing the rover dead. A sad moment for many I’m sure, or else media wouldn’t be blowing up about it. Even though it is deceased, this 400 million-dollar rover will live on in our hearts.
R.I.P. Opportunity. 2003-2018