NASA Rover is a “Missed Opportunity”


JAYLEEN LAM Staff Writer

The NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, ended its eightmonth attempt to reconnect with Opportunity, one of a pair of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s (NASA) Mars Rovers. This robot was the fifth to achieve a successful landing on Mars, out of eight NASA spacecraft that landed on the red planet. The team responsible for its mission declared Opportunity’s death the end of an era. “This is a hard day,” project manager John Callas said. “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.” He added:

“It comes time to say goodbye.” 15 years ago, the 6-foot Opportunity and its twin, Spirit, landed on opposite sides of Mars. Their 2004 mission was intended to last only 90 days, but Opportunity set a traveling record of 28 miles and is the longest-running rover in NASA’s history – until it entered a fierce dust storm in June 2018.

It was exploring Mars’ Perseverance Valley, coincidentally, when the storm blocked its solar panels and cut off communications. After sending more than 1,000 recovery commands, the flight control team tried one last time. With project costs amounting to about $500,000 a month, they sent a final wake-up song, Billie Holiday’s “I’ll Be Seeing You” with a sequence of signals to the silent rover on the night of Feb. 19. No response from the record-setter.

The two vehicles’ greatest accomplishment was the discovery of hematite, gypsum, magnesium, clay minerals and iron carbonate on Mars’ surface, minerals that could have only formed through the presence of water. Spirit also found silica, evidence of hot springs and geothermal vents, and an ancient volcano, where microorganisms may have made a home. NASA collected valuable information about Mars’ geography, atmosphere and climate that it would use for future missions, and hopes to send astronauts there in the 2030’s.

In May 2009, Spirit became embedded in soft soil. Using its only five working wheels, scientists spent months performing tests and careful maneuvers to no avail. They ended Spirit’s mission on May 25, 2011. “I think the rover’s death is not important because it’s a machine,”