How Mars Rover Said Goodbye to NASA - Carlos GaminoBy Carlos Gamino

NASA’s Opportunity Mars Rover was only supposed to last 90 days, clambering over Martian rocks and taking detailed measurements of temperatures, wind speeds and other environmental conditions.

However, it outlasted its original lifespan – in fact, Opportunity continued its mission for more than 15 years, sending data back to on-the-ground NASA operators daily.

Until about 8 months ago, when it sent a tear-jerker of a message back to Earth: “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.” The message, sent during a massive, two-month dust storm the likes of which the Red Planet hadn’t seen in decades, was the last thing Opportunity sent.

NASA personnel continued sending wake-up messages to Opportunity until mid-February. The messages included songs on a playlist entitled “Opportunity, Wake Up!” like “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go,” “I Will Survive,” and “Dust in the Wind.” (They’ve released the playlist on Spotify if you’re interested.)

In a final bid to wake up Opportunity 8 months after its final message, NASA’s scientists played Billie Holliday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You.”

It didn’t work.

I’m not crying. You’re crying.

“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 … Even though it’s a machine and we’re saying goodbye, it’s still very hard and very poignant, but we had to do that. We came to that point,” said NASA project manager John Callas.

Opportunity set several records beyond its original 90-day mission, including:

  • Setting a one-day Mars driving record when it traveled 721 feet
  • Returned more than 217,000 images to Earth, including 15 360-degree color panoramas
  • Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to analyze their mineral content
  • Found hematite on Mars (hematite is a mineral that forms in water)
  • Discovered that Endeavor Crater may have once held potable water

You can explore some of Opportunity’s photos here.

What Do You Think?

Did you keep up with the Opportunity Rover? How did you feel when you discovered its mission was complete? I’d love to hear what you think, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.

Carlos Gamino