Images credit: NASA/JPL.
“My battery is low and it’s getting dark…” – Opportunity’s final message
Mars Exploration Rover “Opportunity” (MER-1 or MER-B) launched onto its journey to the Red Planet on a Delta II from Cape Canaveral, Space Launch Complex 17B (SLC-17B) on July 6, 2003; about a month behind its twin, “Spirit” that launched on June 10, 2003. Almost seven months later, on January 25, 2004 Opportunity bounced down to a stop on Meridiani Planum in a small crater known as Eagle Crater just three weeks after Spirit’s January 4 landing at Gusev crater.
The duo embarked on what was to be a 90 sol (Mars day) mission to explore as much of the Martian surface as they could. The resulting information would be put to use to glean as much information as they could in order to pave the way for subsequent missions, (Curiosity, InSight, Mars 2020 and eventually human exploration).
On May 1, 2009, Spirit became stuck in soft sand. Due to it being solar powered, during Martian winters, the rovers were positioned on inclines to where they could receive enough sunlight to keep their instruments warm through the cold season. After Spirit was unable to free itself from the sand, it was realized that it would likely die in place. On January 26, 2010, NASA declared that Spirit was unlikely to move again but would still do science in place for as long as it could. That date was March 22, 2010 when the final transmission from Spirit was received (2,269 sols and 7.73 km (4.8 mi.) after landing). Even then, NASA kept hope alive until May 25, 2011 when they announced the end to the mission.
Opportunity was now on its own.
Opportunity would continue on doing science as the only operational human emissary, a lonely world of solitude until the landing of Curiosity at Gale Crater on August 6, 2012. In 2018, a vast dust storm enveloped Mars and blackened the skies over the rovers. Opportunity was unfortunately, like its twin, solar powered thus was cut off from the sunlight that it needed for survival. Even after the storm passed months later, Opportunity’s panels were likely completely covered with Martian soil. Last contact came from Opportunity on June 10, 2018 when it reported basically, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark…” and on February 13, 2019, a day before Valentine’s Day; NASA declared that the Opportunity mission and that of the twin Mars Exploration Rover (MER) duo, had come to an end. Opportunity died on the edge of Endeavour Crater where the view, I hear, was spectacular.
What was to be a 90 sol mission slated to cover 600 m (0.4 mi.) ended up spanning 5,352 sols and 45.16 km (28.06 mi.) and the combined efforts of the MER twins changed our view and understanding of the Martian landscape and closes as one of the most successful NASA missions in history.
NOTES: The landing bases for Spirit and Opportunity were renamed for the two space shuttles that were destroyed. Opportunity’s was Challenger Memorial Station while Spirit’s was Columbia Memorial Station. The two rovers also had American flags embossed on aluminum sleeves from the World Trade Center.
Godspeed Opportunity! Godspeed MER Mission!