The first and the last images of NASA’s Opportunity rover from the Martian surface. The first photo (on the left) was acquired on Sol 1 (at approximately 14:58:27 Mars local solar time on January 25, 2004). The last photo (on the right) was taken on Sol 5111 (on June 10, 2018 ), before the rover entered hibernation due to a huge dust storm.

Opportunity images from Sol 1 (left) and Sol 5111 (right)
NASA’s Opportunity Rover’s first and last images from Sol 1 (left) and Sol 5111 (right). Images: NASA Mars website

Opportunity Mars Rover

Opportunity was launched on July 7, 2003, 28 days after its twin, Spirit, which launched on June 10, 2003, as part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Rover program.

It landed in Meridiani Planum, a plain located 2 degrees south of Mars’s equator on January 25, 2004, three weeks after Spirit touched down on the other side of the planet.

Both rovers had a planned 90-sol (Martian day) duration of activity (slightly more than 90 earth days). Spirit functioned until getting stuck in 2009 and ceased communications in 2010, while Opportunity was able to stay operational for 5353 sols after landing.

Opportunity has made a number of discoveries about the Red Planet including dramatic evidence that long ago at least one area of Mars stayed wet for an extended period and that conditions could have been suitable for sustaining microbial life.

By June 10, 2018, when it last contacted NASA and sent it last photo (the image in the right-hand-side above) to Earth, which shows the intensity of the dust storm, Opportunity had traveled a distance of 45.16 kilometers (28.06 miles) and exceeded its operating plan by 14 years, 295 days (in Earth Time), 55 times its designed lifespan.

On June 12, 2018, it entered hibernation due to a huge dust storm. Mars has the largest dust storms in the entire solar system. These massive events can last for weeks and can even cover the entire planet. However, even the largest storms could not strand an astronaut on Mars or rip apart major technological equipment, as seen in the 2015 science-fiction film The Martian.

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark…”

But, the Martian dust storms can block the sun for weeks and that just happened in the Opportunity’s case. In early June 2018, a large global-scale dust storm developed, and within a few days, the rover’s solar panels were not generating enough power to maintain communications.

Science reporter Jacob Margolis tweeted that the last message NASA got from Opportunity basically translated to, “My battery is low and it’s getting dark.”

“My battery is low and it’s getting dark”

NASA lost contact with the rover on June 10, 2018. Opportunity kept silent even after the storm ended in early October 2018. Either there was a catastrophic failure, or its solar panels were covered with a layer of Martian dust.

The wind was detected nearby on January 8, which might clear the dust from its solar panels, as had happened before, and on January 26 the mission team announced a plan to begin broadcasting a new set of commands to the rover in case its radio receiver failed.

More than 835 recovery commands were transmitted over the next 11 days, but no response was generated, and after a final attempt to make contact on February 12, NASA officials held a February 13 press conference to declare an official end to the mission.

As NASA ended their attempts to contact the Opportunity, the last data sent to the rover was the song “I’ll Be Seeing You” performed by Billie Holiday (April 7, 1915 – July 17, 1959), the American jazz singer.

Opportunity: NASA Rover Completes Mars Mission. Drive along with NASA’s Opportunity Mars rover and hear the voices of scientists and engineers behind the mission. Designed to run for 90 days, the exploration spanned more than 15 years from 2004 to 2019. Along the way, it discovered definitive proof of liquid water on ancient Mars and set the off-world driving record.

More Opportunity Achievements

  • Set a one-day Mars driving record on March 20, 2005, when it traveled 721 feet (220 meters).
  • Returned more than 217,000 images, including 15 360-degree color panoramas.
  • Exposed the surfaces of 52 rocks to reveal fresh mineral surfaces for analysis and cleared 72 additional targets with a brush to prepare them for inspection with spectrometers and a microscopic imager.
  • Found hematite, a mineral that forms in water, at its landing site.
  • Discovered strong indications at Endeavour Crater of the action of ancient water similar to the drinkable water of a pond or lake on Earth.
Opportunity Mars rover - artist conception
This artist conception portrays Opportunity on the surface of Mars. Image source: Wikipedia

How Opportunity went to Mars

How To get to Mars” is a clip from the IMAX documentary “Roving Mars” from 2006. This is an edited short version. It shows how the Opportunity rover (or its twin, the Spirit rover) has landed on Mars. Spirit, MER-A (Mars Exploration Rover – A), was active from 2004 to 2010. It was one of two rovers of NASA’s ongoing Mars Exploration Rover Mission. It landed successfully on Mars at 04:35​ Ground UTC on January 4, 2004, three weeks before its twin, Opportunity (MER-B), landed on the other side of the planet. Its name was chosen through a NASA-sponsored student essay competition. Spirit became stuck in late 2009, and its last communication with Earth was sent on March 22, 2010.


M. Özgür Nevres
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